WEST DOVER — Communities supporting new Americans were commended at the annual Southern Vermont Economy Summit on Thursday.
“ECDC is here to stay, and refugees will continue to come,” Joe Wiah, director of the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s Brattleboro branch, said Thursday in a keynote speech at the summit at the Grand Summit Hotel at Mount Snow in West Dover. “Our strategy is focusing on both Brattleboro ... as well as Bennington. To do that, we will continue to work with all of you.”
The theme of the summit was about cultivating change, said Adam Grinold, executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. Bringing new Americans to Southern Vermont is one of the objectives leaders in the region identified in recent years.
Improvements have been made in local systems to support immigration, Grinold said. He acknowledged issues still needing work, including broadband, child care, downtown vibrancy and water/sewer infrastructure.
“We appreciate all you do to celebrate the vitality of the Southern Vermont region,” Jim Sullivan, executive director of the Bennington County Regional Commission, told the crowd filled with business and community leaders.
ECDC wouldn’t have a local branch without the community coming together, Wiah said. Resettlement agencies ask what supports are in place when exploring new areas to ensure services are available to vulnerable populations, he explained.
Before ECDC opened an office in Brattleboro, the Development Credit Corp. and its partners were working on having that infrastructure in place.
“Today, we have about 100 refugees who have arrived,” Wiah said.
Successful integration requires a collaborative approach, he said. Ongoing challenges he cited include cultural adjustment, housing and transportation.
Having seen how the region rallies to support new Americans, Wiah said, “There’s nothing we can’t do.”
“We want to be working directly with the community,” Thomas Huddleston, co-sponsorship manager at the local ECDC office said in a keynote speech, “because we believe in a rural area, your chances as a newcomer depend on how many people you know.”
Robyn Lucius, human resources manager at Against the Grain, said the Brattleboro company hired 11 new Americans in a partnership with ECDC and Community Asylum Seekers Projects since the beginning of the year.
“We are very honored,” Lucius said, describing an environment of gratitude and empathy in the workplace.