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Katrina Recovery Veteran Launches #VTResponse

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Vermonters looking for a way to help their neighbors in need are connecting with volunteer opportunities through #VTResponse, a new website at vtresponse.wordpress.com. The site aggregates requests from people and agencies, letting volunteers know who to contact and where to show up. Recent posts include “Help Wanted: Marlboro” and “Update: Resources in Northfield.”

#VTResponse is mentioned on the governor’s website, and has been popping up on Facebook, Twitter and in local media outlets (including Seven Days), though it’s not part of any “official” relief effort — it’s a grassroots clearinghouse organized by Sarah Waterman, a 27-year-old Winooski resident with a keen interest in disaster preparedness. 

Waterman, who grew up in East Montpelier, has a master’s degree in public administration, with a concentration in public health. She spent six months volunteering in Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina.

Waterman created #VTResponse after texting with her parents in Montpelier Sunday night. Their power had gone out. “There was just no information reaching them,” she says, so she relayed information she was getting on Twitter. 

On Monday morning, the premed classes she was supposed to start at the University of Vermont were canceled, so Waterman spent the day glued to her computer. She created #VTResponse with assistance from her coworkers at Reality Venture Capital, a start-up that hosts reality television fantasy leagues. She says they’ve dropped everything to help her work on the site.

Waterman isn’t putting on wading boots herself, but she’s frantically fielding tweets and messages from people all over the state. With disaster relief, she says, “There’s this huge component of just being there for people.” 

She recalls her experiences cleaning up after Katrina. “Here you are, thinking that people want to get this tree out of their yard, but what they really want to do is to tell you their story… sometimes being the person who’s there listening is the most helpful thing of all.”

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