BRATTLEBORO — After a nightmarish week for Groundworks Collaborative, friends, clients, and co-workers came together on April 7 for a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of Leah Rosin-Pritchard as the agency announced a three-week pause in operations to allow staff “time and space for our healing to begin.”
The community was shocked by the April 3 death of Rosin-Pritchard, shelter coordinator at Morningside House, at the hands of a shelter resident who has since been arraigned on charges of first-degree murder.
Groundworks runs the 30-bed Morningside House shelter on Royal Road, where the vigil was held. The nonprofit also operates a daytime drop-in center and 34-bed overnight shelter on South Main Street and the region's most-used food shelf, Foodworks, on Canal Street.
In a news release, Groundworks said it received “a truly remarkable outpouring of support from our community, our organizational partners, and our state government. In order to allow our wider community to appropriately respond to this loss, Groundworks will be collaborating with its many community partners to cover the services it provides.”
Executive Director Josh Davis said the collaboration is needed to help Groundworks through this tragedy and allow the nonprofit's clients to continue to receive the services they need, while staff members take the time they need to grieve, assess, begin to heal, and return to work.
“It is clear that our entire staff needs a pause in order to come together to grieve, work together toward healing, and figure out our way forward,” Davis said.
A pause for staff healing
Morningside House closed immediately after Rosin-Pritchard's death at the shelter on April 3. Groundworks closed its overnight shelter on April 7.
The Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity is funding motel rooms for overnight shelter clients, allowing Groundworks to close both facilities until Tuesday, May 2.
“Now that we've secured support to continue services throughout the pause, we can begin to plan for our group process in healing,” said Groundworks' Director of Supportive Services Jess Guardado.
In the interim, the Groundworks Leadership Team said it will focus its efforts during this three week period on three priorities - “long-term continuity of services, caring for and supporting its staff, and providing support to Leah's family and friends.”
Services will continue at Foodworks and at the permanent supportive housing communities at Great River Terrace and The Chalet. Case management and the Representative Payee program will also continue, and Brooks Memorial Library will be receiving and distributing client mail.
During the closure time, Groundworks said these services will be operated by their community partners and volunteers. Point people have volunteered to coordinate each area of service, and clients may reach out to the following coordinators with questions or unmet needs:
• Food - Putney Foodshelf: [email protected].
• Outreach to/support for shelter guests in motels - HCRS: [email protected].
• Health care - Brattleboro Memorial Hospital: [email protected].
• Overall coordination and coordinator troubleshooting: [email protected].
Davis, who was on a leave of absence to deal with a medical issue in his family, was among approximately 75 people at the April 7 vigil, sharing hugs and tears with colleagues and community members.
“This is so messed up,” he said.
Glenne Fletcher has been a registered nurse for 43 years. She works with the Vermont Chronic Care Initiative and had put in her retirement papers last week.
“I can't put into words the dedication of this woman,” said Fletcher, who had worked closely with Rosin-Pritchard at Morningside House.
Rosin-Pritchard's death hit Fletcher hard. She said that “safety has always been a problem” for people who work in social services, but that the system “doesn't always have a way to catch” people who are in trouble.
According to court documents, Rosin-Pritchard, 37, was slain on April 3 by Zaaina Asra Zakirrah Mahvish-Jammeh, 38, who was charged with first degree murder and is now being held without bail. A psychiatric exam was ordered to determine if she is competent to stand trial.
The vigil was organized by Sally Fegley, who manages the Morningside Commons condominium complex across the street from Morningside House, and Bonnie Gervan, who is chair of the Morningside Commons Board.
“I thought it was important that we, as neighbors, did something for Leah,” Gervan said. “This has left a lot of us shaken up.”
A second vigil is planned to honor Rosin-Pritchard and everyone involved at Groundworks for Sunday, April 16, at 2 p.m., at the Brattleboro Town Common.
According to Rev. Lise Sparrow, one of the organizers, U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, Kheya Ganguly, the state director of trauma prevention and resilience development, and Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson will all be present along with town leaders.
The Hallowell Singers will provide musical interludes.