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Five-year-old Nolan Goodnow holds the national Youth Hero Award he recently received from the American Legion Auxiliary.

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This preschooler saved his family, and now they all face homelessness

Five-year-old Nolan Goodnow just received a national award for waking his sleeping household during Brattleboro’s largest blaze of 2021. But without another place to stay, he and his parents, sister and grandmother may be living outside as of June 1.

BRATTLEBORO—Five-year-old Nolan Goodnow just received a national Youth Hero Award for waking his sleeping family last December during this town’s largest fire of the year.

Now all the preschooler needs is a place to put it.

Nolan was supposed to be in bed on Dec. 9, 2021 when he bounded out at 3:30 a.m., alerting everyone to the sound of beeping.

His mother, Allison Gleason, first thought it was a plow truck in the parking lot, only to look outside her second-floor Western Avenue apartment to see that growing flames had triggered a fire alarm.

Stopped by smoke upon opening the staircase door, Gleason had only minutes to jump 15 feet out a window so she could hope to catch her son, his 3-year-old sister, and their grandmother when they leapt.

Firefighters from 10 area departments who went on to battle the total-loss blaze agree: If the preschooler hadn’t roused his mother, the family would have perished within minutes.

Enter the national American Legion Auxiliary, which just gave Nolan its Youth Hero Award. At the ceremony, the honoree’s family watched with an unusual mixture of pride and unease.

The house everyone has stayed in since the fire is for sale, his mother said, and they must vacate by June 1.

“We’ve been looking relentlessly for a place,” Gleason said. “Either we make too little or too much or it’s too far away or as soon as they hear the word ‘kids,’ they say, ‘I’m sorry, we have someone else.’”

The working-class family’s income is one challenge.

“The price on housing right now is ridiculous,” Gleason said.

The fact the family is seeking a three-bedroom apartment (although they can make it work with two) is another challenge.

A new municipal study has found a shortage of Brattleboro housing, especially for individuals and families making less than $50,000 a year, requiring 70 percent of local workers to live in other towns.

“My mom was staying with me when the house burned down because she had lost her place,” Gleason said.

The family wants a location within driving distance of Brattleboro, where the adults work, and neighboring Vernon, where the children attend preschool.

Otherwise, they’re set to move to a local campsite for the summer.

“With a 3- and a 5-year-old, it’s not ideal,” Gleason said, “but I know we can make it fun enough so it’s not going to be an issue for them.”

People with information about affordable Brattleboro-area housing options can email the family at AllisonLGleason18@gmail.com.

“Even if it’s temporary or a short-term lease,” Nolan’s mother said, “we just need a roof.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #665 (Wednesday, May 25, 2022). This story appeared on page A1.

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