Op - Ed, Opinion

Project VISION, a force for positive change

By Joe Kraus

In the summer of 2012, a large and diverse group of citizens gathered to ask what could be done about the growing opioid crisis affecting our community. That group ultimately became known as Project VISION, a very eclectic collaborative of virtually every agency and organization dedicated to the welfare of the greater Rutland region. Our members include churches, schools, law enforcement, social service agencies and citizens of every shape and color. The city of Rutland and the Rutland Regional Medical Center also play critical roles.

We operate in the belief that together we can accomplish more than any of us could accomplish alone. As a result, we focus on building non-traditional partnerships. We like to think that this is one time, where 1 plus 1 can equal 3.

We have no board of directors, no budget and no rules. Everyone is welcome and everyone has a say. Despite dealing with some of the most difficult and complex issues of our time, we are a remarkably happy and effective group and have an unshakable belief in our community and in our collective future. We love Rutland.

Together we have achieved a great deal over the last eight years. The city’s Northwest Neighborhood, where we spent much of our early efforts, is a much different place today than it was eight years ago. Abandoned homes have been restored or demolished, a community park was created, block parties and other neighborhood events have taken place, private investment can be seen everywhere and the Southwest Vermont Council on Aging restored the largest building in the neighborhood and moved its offices there. Most significantly, survey results show that most residents are now happy with the neighborhood and would recommend it to their family and friends.

The Rutland City Police Department has completely reinvented itself by its groundbreaking partnership with a variety of social service agencies in the VISION Center on the second floor of the police department. As a result, our officers are now able to directly and immediately provide assistance to the most challenged and disadvantaged members of our community. Incarceration is no longer the first or only option.

We are no longer demonizing those with addictions and are making it safe and easy for them to receive the assistance and treatments they need. As a result of this and comprehensive community policing efforts, all categories of crime are down significantly.

Lastly, we have helped to restore our pride in this amazing community and our hope for the future.

Eight years later, it is still our fervent hope that we continue to be a force for positive change. To that end we have undertaken a strategic planning process that will help shape our future. The process started this past winter and was making great progress until the coronavirus struck. We then all hunkered down and our planning abruptly stopped.

In addition to taking the lives of many Vermonters, the coronavirus has cast a bright light on the cracks and gaps in our social safety nets. It has also devastated the finances of our state, our hospitals, colleges, towns, schools, churches and other nonprofits. It is very likely that the many services provided by these critical bulwarks of our society will be greatly diminished in the years ahead. And as a result, life for many of us, particularly the most disadvantaged, will be much more difficult. As we plan for our future Project VISION we will take into account this new reality. Serving is our reason for being and in the aftermath of the coronavirus we and our many partners will be required to serve in ways we never had to before.

I would, therefore, like to invite you to become a part of Project VISION as we plan for our future. We are the place where everyone is welcome and everyone’s contribution is appreciated. While I cannot predict where the future will take us, I can say without hesitation that we will not stop until we achieve our vision of making Rutland one of the healthiest, happiest and safest communities in America. Together we can do it.

You can check us out on Facebook, Project VISION or email matthew.prouty@vermont.gov and ask to be added to our listserv.

Joe Kraus lives in Rutland and is chairman of Project VISION.

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