WILMINGTON — Melissa Boyles is getting to know the downtown community she will serve as the new Wilmington Works program coordinator.
“I would like to see community development,” she said. “I think that should be the vision. All ideas should run through that funnel.”
This month, the downtown organization announced the hiring of Boyles. Her background is in business management and environmental studies, according to the announcement.
“Wilmington Works is so grateful to have her on board to help strengthen our downtown communities and bring fresh eyes for creative solutions to the challenges we face,” the organization said.
Meg Staloff, program coordinator at Wilmington Works for five years, has taken on a position managing the Southern Vermont Economy Project with Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. She was helping organize the Southern Vermont Economy Summit in March and the full-time job with the agency presented itself.
“The decision to leave was really based on being ready to take on a bigger role,” she said. “I learned a tremendous amount.”
The development agency allowed her to stay on with Wilmington Works until a successor was found. She also recently moved from Wilmington to Greenfield, Mass.
Boyles grew up in Alabama. After she graduated from college, she went to North Carolina and participated in yoga teacher training. Then she bounced between Central America and Alabama seasonally, teaching yoga and organizing a couple of festivals then waiting tables and nannying when back in the U.S.
She ended up in Wilmington after being introduced to the community by her sister and brother-in-law, Chrystal and Brian Holt. The couple had been part of a team that won a business plan competition hosted by Wilmington Works in 2018 and ended up opening up 1a Coffee Roasters.
Boyles met her husband in Estonia when she and Chrystal would take daytrips from Finland. He began visiting them in Helsinki, and they would meet him in Tallinn.
Boyles and her husband’s first child was born in Estonia. Then they moved to the U.S.
“I was sort of drowning in motherhood and wanted to be closer to my family,” Boyles said.
She lived in Alabama with family for about two years before COVID-19 hit and shut everything down. She said her husband lost both of his jobs.
With money refunded from a planned trip to Estonia, they purchased camping supplies and embarked on a trip to visit Chrystal. Boyles recalled how the narrative at the time seemed to be that it was safe to be outside. She said state parks, campgrounds and grocery stores were open.
“All you needed was food and shelter,” she said.
Her family traveled from Birmingham to Wilmington, camping along the Appalachian Trail. After visiting with her sister and her family, they wanted to stay.
“I realized for the first time what it was like to raise kids within community, which is a gamechanger,” Boyles said, describing scenes in which the families shared responsibilities such as making meals and watching children, and the kids kept themselves busy by playing together. “I saw the light. It was really great. From there, I really wanted that.”
Boyles said she began to envision more community development.
“It was community, community, community,” she said.
So far, she has enjoyed escaping what she called “the brutal heat of Alabama.” And she believes she can manage winter in Vermont, having experienced the cold of northern Estonia. Her husband and son already snowboard, and her younger daughter is asking if she can start.
Boyles said she would like to continue helping women with postpartum support. In Alabama, she was doing that, as well as quilt making, workshops for using plant fibers on fabrics and wedding management. Having various gigs worked well with her family’s schedule and being a mother.
Chrystal sent Boyles a link to the job ad with Wilmington Works. Staloff had asked Chrystal if she knew anyone who might be interested.
The description mentioned part-time work, community development and event coordinating. Boyles said she is experienced with all these things, but she felt nervous about the position being regular work instead of gigs.
This marks her first time committing to such a concrete career decision since graduating college, when she was in a different country every season.
Boyles described her predecessor as being full of energy and ideas. She said the Wilmington Works Board told her Staloff took the position to “a whole other level.”
“She’s a get-it-done woman,” Boyles said. “She’s not messing around. So there’s big shoes to fill.”
Staloff said she thinks it is “a great time” to leave.
“I think I left the organization in a good place,” she said. “We had just finished a lot of great projects. For someone new to come in and find other community projects that they can help foster right now, it’s terrific.”
Staloff’s new role will involve helping communities in Bennington and Windham counties advance projects. The credit corporation will provide training or technical assistance.
Boyles is inspired by Staloff’s initiative to help bring Everyone Eats to the area. The statewide program pays restaurants to prepare free meals to provide to anyone negatively affected by COVID-19.
Staloff also led a community art project on a wall behind The Richards Group by the Old School Community Center. That was completed in early summer.
Boyles, who is new to grant writing and excited to learn about it, said Wilmington Works might apply for funds to replace benches downtown. Staloff mentioned the idea to her.
Boyles wants to bring back the winter festival, which Staloff organized last year. Boyles is interested in having competitive games as part of the event.
Boyles said she is “trying to feel out the possibility” of a craft fair and holiday market. She said she believes it’s important to offer opportunities for people to buy handmade things from Vermonters.
Another idea she is proposing is a bingo night. She sees it as being a potential hit among kids, senior citizens and all those in between.
Boyles will be helping the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce with the Wine Stroll and Soup Contest on Sept. 23. Tickets can be purchased at visitvermont.ticketspice.com/2022-vermont-wine-harvest-festival.
Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber Director Bethaney LaClair is “really amazing,” Boyles said. “I really like her. It’s nice to have this partner who’s right next door and part of the time.”
Boyles said the focus should be on community development, especially coming out of COVID-19 after people have been fearful of gathering.
“It really hit hard for people,” she said. “I think it’s now safe for people to be in the community, and we should cultivate that I think.”