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Coming Together

Post-Irene, a race against winter in the Mad River Valley


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On August 28, Dotty Kyle of Waitsfield was about to go to an event at the Vermont Festival of the Arts. Jason Gulisano, chef-owner of the popular Green Cup Café, was about to wrap up Sunday brunch. Down the road in Moretown, John DiCarlo was about to close on the sale of his house. There were plenty of other about-to’s on the day Tropical Storm Irene changed the plans — and altered the lives — of so many Vermonters...

When the Mad River surged far over its banks, businesses and homes alongside it were severely damaged — including that of DiCarlo, whose hopes of selling were ruined along with the contents of his home. The collective losses far outweigh any owner’s — or FEMA’s — ability to pay for them.

Despite the disasters that Irene wrought, Waitsfield, like other Vermont towns, pulled together to take care of its own. In the face of muck and debris, ruined buildings, bridges and roads, now-malformed riverbeds and displaced families, the Valley found a silver lining: proof that people care about each other.

On the day after the storm, someone set up a table on Bridge Street and started soliciting volunteers to help clean up. Over a couple of months, a band of determined individuals turned into a model, FEMA-sanctioned organization for disaster relief: Mad River Flood Recovery. With the help of FEMA volunteer liaison Curtis Hanzel, MRFR formed a board to oversee every aspect of long-term relief efforts. The group acts much like a nonprofit, with fiduciary support from the Central Vermont Community Action Council and the Mad River Valley Community Fund.

Volunteers have poured into the group’s HQ — the Masonic Lodge in Waitsfield — from near and far. Carloads of environmental-studies students from the University of Vermont show up most Saturdays to pitch in. Local individuals and businesses have donated building supplies or sold them at cost. MRFR committees handle everything from volunteer and construction coordination to emotional and spiritual counsel.

On Thanksgiving, there was a lot to be grateful for in the Valley — for one thing, the patched-up Bridge Street covered bridge recently reopened to vehicles. But there is also worry that not all families uprooted by the flood have a place to live, that not all the damaged buildings are “buttoned up” yet. The relatively mild fall has been a boon, but winter is most assuredly on its way. As the sign outside the Masonic Lodge says, “We’re not done yet … volunteer!”

You can find out how to help Mad River Flood Recovery by calling 496-6089 or visiting

Pamela Polston and Jen Vaughn would like to thank their Valley “tour guides,” who took time for them on a busy day of volunteer work: Peter Edlund, reconstruction consultant; Asah Rowles, member of the MRFR board; and Dotty Kyle, chair of volunteer coordination and all-around HQ activity.

Jen Vaughn is a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies. She lives in White River Junction.