Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo Executive Director Hal Cohen speaks Friday as Central Vermont Community Action Council in Barre announced its name change and rebranding to Capstone Community Action. Seated from left are Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding, Mayor Thomas Lauzon, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy.
BARRE — The organization known for decades as the Central Vermont Community Action Council officially isn’t anymore.
It was hardly a secret, and Friday afternoon’s party at the agency’s new multimillion-dollar campus on Gable Place was the rebranding equivalent of a ribbon-cutting, but the acronym CVCAC — and the name that went with it for the past 49 years — is now a footnote in the history of Capstone Community Action.
That’s a name that will likely take some getting used to for longtime central Vermonters, like Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who admitted as much during a party that attracted some 300 people, including dignitaries ranging from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon.
“I have to keep repeating, ‘Capstone, Capstone, Capstone’ because, as somebody who grew up in Barre, I’ll know it forever as ‘community action,’” Scott said during his turn at the podium beneath the new Capstone Community Action sign on the side of the $5 million complex that opened just last year.
However, while the organization has a new name to go with its new headquarters, speakers from Leahy to Lauzon to board President Lori Belding said its mission — to end poverty, create opportunity and build community — is the same today as it was when it was founded in 1965.
Belding spoke first, crediting Capstone Executive Director Hal Cohen with pitching the new building and the name change and shepherding an anxious board and an organization with a history of great service through a process fraught with risks and “what-ifs.”
Whatever could have gone wrong didn’t, according to Belding, who is a big believer in the community action model that can be traced to the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and America’s “War on Poverty.”
“What I really love about this organization is sometimes we give people fish, sometimes we teach people to fish, and sometimes we teach them how to cook that fish,” Belding said. “And why do we do this? Because we’re all dedicated to the common goal of ending poverty and creating prosperity in our communities.”
Cohen, who is entering his 18th year at the helm of the agency, told those in attendance that it was time for a change.
With an expanding list of programs and services, including several that are run statewide, Cohen said, the “central Vermont” in the organization’s name had become somewhat less relevant. It serves residents of Washington, Orange and Lamoille counties, but also those in nine towns in Rutland, Addison and Windsor counties.
“In many ways we’ve outgrown who we are,” Cohen said. “We’ve outgrown this name.”
According to Cohen, the new name and the new logo better reflect the diversity of services offered by the organization, which does everything from providing emergency fuel aid and weatherization help to assisting aspiring entrepreneurs and running a family literacy program.
“We’re creating new programs that focus on moving people out of poverty, and I think that’s the direction that this agency has to go,” he said, suggesting Friday’s party was a celebration of both the new name and the completion of the capital campaign that saw the organization raise $3 million in public and private funds and borrow $2 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finance its new headquarters in Barre.
Leahy, who helped secure the first $300,000 grant for the project, said he was confident the organization would continue to do good work no matter what it is called.
“We ought to all recommit ourselves to end poverty in Vermont,” he said, suggesting programs like the ones run by Capstone remove barriers for families and individuals who are struggling.
“It not only makes central Vermont a better place, it makes all of Vermont a better place,” he said.
Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said Capstone had an unwavering ally in Gov. Peter Shumlin, who was unable to attend the ceremony. Scott had high praise for an organization that has played a pivotal role in the Wheels for Warmth initiative he launched nearly a decade ago.
“It’s very easy to look around the world and see so many problems that we all face and throw up your hands and say: ‘I can’t fix all of this, so I may as well not try,’” he said. “It’s very difficult to look at the world and see all those problems and say to yourself: ‘What can I do to fix something today?’ But that’s exactly what Capstone has done, and they’ve been doing so for nearly 50 years.”
Lauzon described Capstone’s investment in downtown Barre as an important ingredient to what he said was a recipe for success.
“What’s happening here in Barre is nothing short of magic,” he said, suggesting it was a product of “great partnerships and great people.”
Like Cohen, Lauzon said there is still work to do.
“Our success isn’t complete until it touches every single member of our community,” he said.
Those attending the party also heard brief remarks from two of Washington County’s three senators — William Doyle and Anthony Pollina — and Rep. Francis “Topper” McFaun, who worked for the organization back in 1966.
“How proud I am to have worked in the poverty program in those days when it first started,” McFaun said. “There’s no better feeling.”
He didn’t have to tell that to a handful of Capstone staff members who were singled out by Shelby Gonzalez, a young woman who was 17, single and five months pregnant when she joined the family literacy program in July and described it as a life-altering experience.
“You saved me,” she said, noting she is now a married mother of one, who received everything from prenatal parenting support to educational assistance from Capstone staff, who saw to it she graduated from high school two weeks ago.
Gonzalez offered them the tassel from her graduation cap as a token of her appreciation.
“I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, but for all of you my heart has no bottom,” she said.
With that the speaking stopped, the band started and the party on the Capstone Community Action campus continued.
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