IDEAL aims to assist communities

By Ciara McEnenany | Community News Service

MONTPELIER — Town leaders can get more tools to welcome newer Vermonters through a statewide program launched last month by Gov. Phil Scott and the state Office of Racial Equity.

The program — known as IDEAL, for inclusion, diversity, equity, action and leadership — began Nov. 21 and is this year’s flagship project for the office, which opened in 2019.

Fourteen communities have joined the program so far, from places as large as Bennington and Burlington to those as small as Tinmouth, population 550.

Shalini Suryanarayana, who runs the office’s education and outreach efforts, said some local governments in Vermont need more tools to make their towns feel more welcoming to people who move here from abroad and who may struggle with English.

The new program looks to give towns those resources — diversity training, a place to share each other’s policies, guidance on making it easier to find a job.

“It’s a program that’s geared toward leadership at the local level,” Suryanarayana said. “We created this program to try to help communities become knowledgeable about diversity, equity, inclusion, and so that they can help advance their policy and practices.”

Town officials can join the program by applying through the office website, then going through an interview process. Community leaders can apply any time, Suryanarayana said.

“It’s going to be top on our list for years to come because working with the local people is important to us. And we see an ability to shift the entire landscape of Vermont by working together in this way,” Suryanarayana said.

Current program members include: Bennington, Brattleboro, Burlington, Essex, Fairfax, Hardwick, Hartford, Hinesburg, Orange, St. Albans, South Burlington, Richmond, Tinmouth and Winooski.

The program is being funded with $220,000 from state coffers along with funds from the Vermont Community Foundation.

Suryanarayana has seen local officials collaborating more since they joined the program.

“They are already talking about ways to support each other. One of the members was talking about wanting to share (different policy language),” Suryanarayana said. “So, they’re already finding these ways to support each other, which is amazing.”

The office is also working with groups that support new Americans and migrant workers in the state. Along with partnering with businesses to simplify the job-search process for people who aren’t native English speakers.

“We’re improving how we’re posting jobs and the processes for hiring to make sure we’re using equitable practices,” Suryanarayana said. “Then working on retention around how we make moving to Vermont something that people want to continue doing and to help make it an environment where people want to stay.”

She hopes that, at some point, the state won’t need her office to build these efforts.

“We would like to reach that point where everyone’s doing the work, and we’re no longer needed,” she said.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Public domain
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2 thoughts on “IDEAL aims to assist communities

  1. I’d like to know how all these diversity pawns can afford to live in a state most Vters are having problems affording? Are they all going to be funded with
    another tax on the citizens? the diversity tax?

    • Interesting, it’s corrupt governments and the wealthiest who stole from slaves and now they are robbing honest taxpayers to pay for their crimes.

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