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West Townshend community center seeks nonprofit status

TOWNSHEND—They don’t have a name for their organization yet, but the people involved with the West Townshend Country Store and Community Post Office — an actual U.S. Post Office with designated “community” status — finally have the beginnings of a board of directors.

Clare Adams of West Townshend — an artist, teacher, farmer and driving force behind this multi-purpose and good-humored center for art, music, food, education and social networking —  was unanimously elected president of the board of the nonprofit hopeful.

According to the rules of the game for nonprofits as set out by the Preservation Trust of Vermont, a state organization devoted to preserving historic places and  buildings for the past 30 years), the center must have a board with at least two official board members, the president and the treasurer. 

“I think we’ve found a treasurer,” Adams reported. “I’ll let you know.” 

Serving as general trustees are Robert Du Grenier, the CEO of Du Grenier Associates, an amalgam of several commercial enterprises, most famously his blown glass, of Windham and Leigh Merinoff, of AgroLiving, a sustainable farm network, who lives in Vermont and New Jersey.

Du Grenier was unanimously elected vice-president of the board, and Merinoff was named secretary.

Three general trustees were named: Michael Donahue, a musician and retired lawyer from West Townshend; Michael Longo, a tree specialist and community activist from West Townshend; and Alicia Moyer, a musician and social worker from West Townshend.

The goals of the board are ambitious, and could well start with a contest to name the place. Its members hope for a name that includes everything and excludes nothing, but connotes a West River space devoted to community enterprises, especially music, art, food and children.

Several Thursday night concerts have been scheduled for the gallery space in the center.

Perhaps the major barrier the group faces is joining with the 160-year-old, two-story building’s owner. Zach Caldwell, an Olympic-grade ski grinder and sports business person, now lives in Boulder, Colo. There’s been no conflict among members and Caldwell but, says Adams, “he’s hard to pin down.”

They also have to deal with the legal red tape that comes with acquiring nonprofit status. They hope to find a lawyer who will help, said Adams.

“We’re just beginning,” Du Grenier added. His explorations into just getting a building appraisal and assessment found it would cost up to $3,000.

“One person mentioned $1,300 for an appraisal,” he said. “This is very preliminary.”

Insurance and other liability issues concern the board, not just for the building but, for example, for artists whose work is on exhibit.  Du Grenier said artists must carry their own insurance.

Also on the board’s wish list: more general trustees, more volunteers for their twice-weekly thrift shop (plus more shelves and racks), more craftspeople, a café/bake shop, a book and film club, an open studio time, a railing for the stairs to the second floor, an outdoor, wood-fired bread and pizza oven, and more classes for children.

There has been plenty of activity at the center over the past few months, including the thrift shop and the Thursday concerts, which have earned the enterprise more than $500 in donations, Adams said.

Art and puppet-making classes for children are held now Mondays after school, taught by Adams in her own studio in the back of the building.  They cost $10 per class. Sally Newton is planning a children’s concert for January, and Adams said she hoped a puppet show could be included.

Someone has offered the group a wood stove, which they agreed to accept and to store in the basement until safety issues are resolved.

Apart from the Preservation Trust, Adams and Du Grenier have also met or talked with such independent but state-supported agencies as the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board and other organizations that assist Vermont-based community efforts with loan interest loans for housing and sustainable food projects.

The building itself had a close call on Nov. 22 when a runaway truck speeding down Windham Hill Road narrowly missed hitting the structure. No injuries resulted from the accident.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #78 (Wednesday, December 1, 2010).

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