To support and to be supportive

Laura Chapman and her colleagues at Groundworks make the seasonal shelter run smoothly

GUILFORD — I have long been an admirer of the Groundworks Collaborative - but never more than during this debilitating COVID-19 pandemic.

Groundworks was established in 2015 following the merger of two well-established organizations: the Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center and Morningside Shelter (the two having previously been in existence for 27 and 36 years, respectively). It now provides ongoing support to families and individuals facing the full continuum of housing and food insecurities in the greater Brattleboro area.

The Reformer and The Commons have kept us well informed about the extraordinary efforts being made by Groundworks to help meet the needs of particularly disadvantaged members of our community.

And I was inspired to further capture this organization's compassion by interviewing Laura Chapman, the Groundworks Shelter administrative coordinator - and, accordingly, shine a yet-brighter light on the passion that the Groundworks staff and volunteers bring to their work every single day.

I'm so glad I did.

What an extraordinary human being; what a remarkable organization!

* * *

Laura reflected on the holidays, just past, as a time of consistent chaos. “Not surprisingly,” she told me, “the stress normally experienced during the holidays was much exacerbated by the crisis.”

She went on to explain that, additionally, Groundworks staff have been working around the clock to open its new space on South Main Street, “a development resulting from the exceptional efforts made by our leadership over recent years.”

Laura's primary job is to make sure the shelter programs run smoothly and that the basic needs of its residents are met. Her job is both to support and to be supportive - and both skills seem to come naturally to her.

She's been in this position for the past three years. Not surprisingly, some of the most challenging aspects of her job are managing interpersonal dynamics and helping to resolve conflicts as they arise.

“We are often the last hope for persons in need, and it can be terribly frustrating when we can't get people the support they urgently need and very much deserve,” she said.

Living in poverty, Laura notes, “severely limits your choices and your movements. Too often, sadly, there's no means in the existing systems to support you. And, of course, COVID makes our jobs that much more challenging! Just being in a shelter system is traumatizing.”

But the rewards are wonderfully gratifying.

“Every time we're able to let someone know that housing has been found for them - or good food, or running water and soap - the expressions, first of surprise, then of such delight, make the value of this work eminently clear, simply erasing the doubts that inevitably arise in the often arduous process of getting there.”

“And the people I work with are extraordinary!” she continued. “I can't begin to describe the energy they put into their daily endeavors even when working against long odds - always putting their clients first, always going above and beyond!”

“Our volunteers and meal teams are always at the ready, generously responding to needs as they arise,” Laura said. “And our community as a whole is invariably supportive. Talk about compassion; talk about understanding!”

* * *

Laura coordinates all of this creatively and with unfailingly appreciative support both to Groundworks' paid staff and its community volunteers. And she looks forward to the day, hopefully not too far off in the future, when caring efforts such as these will simply become part of our society's moral fabric, “reducing the need for groups like ours.”

From where, we wonder, do such drive and inspired commitment originate for a person such as Laura?

She told me that even at a young age she came to understand the huge disparities and inequities that exist in our world, and the responsibility we have to address them.

Brattleboro is deeply appreciative of the compassion that Laura - and her colleagues - bring to their work and to our community.

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