GFC receives Health Dept. grant to support youth programming

BELLOWS FALLS — Greater Falls Connections (GFC), located in Bellows Falls, recently received a nearly $74,000 Health Disparities Grant from the Vermont Health Department (VHD) and Vermont Community Foundation (VCF).

VHD partnered with the Vermont Community Foundation to assemble a community review committee who evaluated all proposals. VHD received 48 applications with a total request of more than $8.8 million, according to Song Nguyen, MPH, manager of health equity at VHD.

“We were unable to award each applicant but are able to award 21 organizations totaling about $3.5 million. Evaluations from the committee were presented to the VDH Health Equity Integration Team to determine the funding amount,” said Nguyen in a news release.

The grant will allow GFC to work with Friends For Change (FFC), a democratically run, youth-led/adult guided, trauma-informed, and play-based club in Bellows Falls, with Passion Empowerment Projects (PEP), which is designed to engage youth and community members impacted by generational trauma and substance abuse. The PEPs will allow participants to share or teach their peers about something they're passionate about while focusing on ways to heal or experience joy together.

Additionally, the grant will allow GFC and FFC to be involved in the development of the Community Opportunity Center, which is currently in the planning stages and has wide community support.

The grant will also enable GFC's director to support the advisory board and staff on creating a more equitable representation on the board to ensure we are inclusive of the most-impacted community members.

This will include updating organizational policies and practices and the design of mini-workshops for the board that are developmentally and culturally appropriate for historically marginalized populations.

“We are so pleased to receive this grant, since it will help us to really reach out to and involve youth and community members who are most impacted by substance use disorder, which will make our work that much more impactful,” said GFC director Laura Schairbaum. “This grant will allow us to continue our strategic goal of empowering and building strong leadership within our coalition. And, it will help us hear from the voices we want to hear most.”

FFC is a program of Youth Services of Windham County. FFC staff members Hailee Galandak-Cochran and Meghan Licciardi helped GFC plan the project and write the grant. They will be implementing the PEP project with other staff members and Deb Witkus from GFC.

“This funding is going to support us to really meet the youth and families in our community where they are and will enable us to show up in the ways that people most impacted by trauma have been telling us would feel best to them,” said Licciardi.

Galandak-Cochran said the funding will have an economic impact as well. “It is such a relief to finally have funding to do the work we know in our hearts needs to be done. To do the work that youth and families have been telling us needs to be done. And to pay most impacted people by trauma for their time and labor, which we value so much,” she said.

Youth Services executive director Russell Bradbury-Carlin said, “We couldn't be more pleased that GFC received this grant. I so appreciate the hard work everyone put into the planning and grant writing. The work that will come out of this funding will benefit the goals of Youth Services to help youth in the community who are in need of a supportive team.”

For more information about GFC, visit

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