Below is an interview with our community partner, Doug Sinclair, President and Housing Programs Director of the Charter House in Middlebury.
What was your role in developing the Charter House?
I was a member of the founding group which included representatives from local churches, United Way, and the Community Engagement Office at the College. The Charter House emergency shelter and the Community Lunch program at Charter House came about because of the economic downturn that began in 2008 and caused many more individuals and families in Vermont to be precariously housed and food insecure. The members of the founding group engaged the community in volunteering to staff the housing and food programs and in providing financial support for operating the programs. Among the most important challenges was figuring out how to operate and manage emergency housing and food programs entirely with volunteers and then develop appropriate training to prepare volunteers for the work. Volunteers also needed to gathering donated furnishings and linens from across Addison County and set up living quarters for all the future guests. There was a lot to coordinate. The learning curve the first year was steep. I was fortunate to have been part of that fun and excitement. Many students, including three who worked at the shelter for their winter term course, played an important role in launching these programs.
What keeps you coming back?
Seeing day after day how many lives are uplifted by the work of Charter House Coalition is stimulating and motivating to all who are touched by it. The organization has grown from a first Community Supper prepared and served by maybe 10 individuals to organization with over 950 volunteers and 7 different housing and food programs. None of the founders had any idea this would happen. Charter House Coalition is now an important resource for many in our community because the idea of neighbor helping neighbor in the rural setting of Addison County appeals to our human nature.
What do you see as the greatest strength of this community?
There is no question in my mind the greatest strength of the community is the willingness of those who live in this area to support the well-being of each other in time of need.
What do you envision for the Charter House in the future?
One of the most important learnings for me over the past 10 years is not to underestimate what a community can accomplish when volunteers unite together with a common goal. People helping people is contagious. Each new person brings new ideas and new energy to the organization. As new groups of volunteers identify new needs in the community, they will continue to find ways to help the community meet those needs.
What role have Middlebury students had with the Charter House?
Over 25% of the organization’s volunteers are students. Five or six students help lead our programs each year through volunteer work, paid internships, and unpaid internships. There is no doubt the organization could not be where it is, or be doing all it does, without the talents and effort of the hundreds of students who have supported our programs.
Anything else you would like to add about your experience with the Charter House, or Middlebury College student involvement?
Working with Charter House Coalition has been an exciting ride with many enriching experiences. I have many wonderful memories of the students who have been so important to the organization over the years. The opportunity to learn and teach while working with them has been a blessing for me and for Charter House Coalition. I hope many others will have similar experiences in the years to come. The work of Charter House Coalition changes lives. Sometimes it’s the lives of the volunteers. I count myself as one of them.
For more information on the Charter House Coalition, click here.