By: Sarah Williams
I was moved to speak at our Town Meeting in Stowe when our neighbors were debating the comparatively large recreation budget versus the nearly nonexistent social services budget. I made the life choice to pursue a career in supporting our most vulnerable neighbors. I do it because if we don’t care for those who are struggling, for those who are in crisis, for those who need a pathway up and out of their trouble, I feel that we all—as a community and as a society—are only as strong as our lowest common denominator. When kids don’t have what they need to be successful in their early years, their chance of success as adults, community members and employees is greatly challenged. The success of our community is what we make of it. Recreational paths are nice, sure, but what makes a strong economy are the people who participate in it. The strength of the people in Stowe is what will make our community rise.
The strength of the people in Stowe is what will make our community rise.
When the public thinks about mental health, often their mind goes straight to emergency rooms and the state hospital—a vision of a person being locked away under a guard of nurses. In reality, the mental health system is infinitely more nuanced. 90% of mental health is supporting people to live healthy, productive and self-directed lives. We do this a number of ways:
- After a tragedy in schools or at fire stations through grief support
- creating support systems with foster and adoptive families to ensure permanence for children
- helping people with developmental disabilities to build relationships and hold meaningful work
- providing support for someone to return to work after a decade of doubting that they are able to get and hold a job
- helping someone who is struggling with an issue with a family member or friend, who doesn’t know what steps to take to next; we have a system in place that helps people figure out the steps to ease their troubles and to know that they aren’t alone in figuring out a solution.
The emergency response budget that we passed in Stowe on Town Meeting Day is going to continue to rise unless we start doing things differently. Reactionary response is both expensive and debilitating to the population who are struggling day to day. Consider the economic impact of each of these individual lives:
- This winter, St. John’s in the Mountains Episcopal Church in Stowe erected an emergency homeless shelter that welcomed over 100 people—many of them children from Stowe. How does the lack of stable housing affect the ability of the parents of these children to hold a job, and for their kids to excel in school?
- Consider the long-term, compounded costs of children going hungry over the summer due to lack of access to the free lunch program. How does this affect their long-term physical and mental health?
- When the police are responding to mental health calls instead of being available emergencies, how does this affect both the safety of those calling the police, as well as the cost of the police budget? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on social services that get at the root of the problem rather than on emergency services?
- Our elderly struggling to maintain their independence at home, while battling isolation, physical and mental health challenges. Don’t we owe it to our community elders to support the home share program?
The Stowe social services budget is 0.4 % of the town budget this year, while Morrisville contributes 1.3%–$82,469 to the community partners who help our neighbors, including CapStone, Lamoille County Mental Health Service, Home Share, the food shelf and Meals on Wheels. That is almost two times the amount we contribute to these programs that support our town.
So when I ask the question “Can we give more to our town social services budget?” I am asking you to not only think of Stowe as a great place to vacation and to have fun, but as a great place to live, work and raise a family. To do this, we need to support the people who live in here who are struggling silently. If you need to hear it will save us money, it will. If you need to hear that giving back is showing your gratitude that you are one of the lucky ones, it is. Our select board wants to hear that our town cares what happens to those who cannot speak for themselves. Please contact your select board today and tell them that you support an increase in the social services budget in your town.
Sarah, an LNA who works as a Medication Coordinator for Lamoille County Mental Health Services, lives in Stowe with her two teenage sons. She is a runner and garden enthusiast.