Rotary Grant Helping With Irene Recovery

Woodstock — Money from a $400,000 Rotary Foundation grant assembled by a former Colby-Sawyer College administrator with an interest in combating climate change is helping Vermont residents renovate and repair their homes after Tropical Storm Irene left its mark.

For Woodstock resident Mark Townsend, the $5,000 he received went toward parts for a new furnace and a deposit for a well.

“The money has helped considerably,” Townsend said. “I’m trying to get heat turned on in the house.”

Townsend said he had flood insurance, but every little bit of assistance counts. Since Irene, Townsend, who had 3 feet of water enter the first floor of his home, had the entire house elevated in order to mitigate the problems.

“There was over 50 percent damage to the structure,” he said.

The money from the grant, which Janice McElroy, of Henniker, N.H., and Marilyn Bedell, of West Lebanon, worked together to get, will go to more than 200 Vermont families.

More than 40 Rotary clubs across New Hampshire came together, along with clubs from Vermont and others around the world, to gather more than $238,000 that was later matched by Rotary International to total $412,450. Clubs from as far away as South Africa and Taiwan lent helping hands.

“It’s one of the largest Rotary International has ever given,” McElroy, a former grants manager for Colby-Sawyer in New London, said of the $174,000 match. “I’m very proud and very grateful that we were able to receive it.”

The grant was first announced in May, and it has assisted more than 80 households and more than 160 people, Steve Geller, Southeastern Vermont Community Action Executive Director, said. SEVCA was chosen as the lead agency to disburse the funds and four other agencies network to cover the state: Community Action in Southwestern Vermont, Central Vermont Community Action Council, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and Northeast Kingdom Community Action.

About 25 percent of the Rotary grants had been disbursed as of last month, and went to cover costs of heating fuel, short-term rent, septic system repairs and replacements, mold remediation, debris cleanup, road, driveway and culvert repairs and more.

“A lot of people were affected by the storm, and it affected people who were doing alright on their own and this kind of threw a monkey wrench into their plans,” Geller said. “And people who were already in dire straits, hardships of poverty, were barely able to survive and this put them over the edge.”

Geller said the rest of the grant money will be disbursed “within about a year or so.”

“We had projected 75 percent of the grant to be spent within the first 12 months, and it looks like we may be about on track for that,” he said.

With more powerful storms occurring in New England, McElroy is concerned about climate change and is involved with a project to educate the public on its effects, she said.

McElroy, a recently trained public speaker under the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit started by former Vice President Al Gore, has given speeches in Henniker and Wilmot, N.H., and has three more speeches booked.

As a former science teacher in California, McElroy said she understood the oceans were getting warmer and continued to track their temperatures.

“Part of what really spurred me to get more active was after Irene happened I could see the devastation that went on,” McElroy said. “There is more moisture in the atmosphere, and it’s like storms on steroids.

“The outcome I saw from Irene and then later with Sandy is when you have got the extra moisture and energy coming in you will have more powerful and heavier storms that will continue to cause more damage.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at