BRATTLEBORO — In 1996, when Pat Burke was invited to attend a meeting of the Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing (BAAH) board, she went. She was young, new to the area and to human resources work, and she was flattered that someone thought her input would be valuable.
She's been going to monthly BAAH meetings ever since. The September 2023 meeting was her last; she is leaving the volunteer board, but she won't stop working to assist people in need.
"There was always a sense in my family of service," she said. "It was always kind of instilled in me to do for others."
When Burke joined BAAH, she was working at the Brattleboro Area Community Land Trust (now Windham & Windsor Housing Trust) as the tenant services coordinator.
She was impressed with BAAH's mission: to improve, increase, and preserve affordable housing in the Brattleboro area and to assist those facing housing emergencies. The board she met was a good representation of folks in the Brattleboro area human services sector.
Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing is a small, volunteer nonprofit organization that raises money in large part through individual donations. It also receives donations from local businesses and organizations, and has received grants from the town of Brattleboro, the Thomas Thompson Trust, and the Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund.
BAAH offers three programs dedicated to raising awareness about and providing solutions to housing problems that are sustainable, collaborative, and empowering:
• Housing Improvement Program (HIP), which helps people address the many barriers that they may face in accessing financial assistance for making necessary home repairs.
• Apartments in Homes Program (AIH), which encourages owners of single-family homes to convert underutilized space into affordable rental units.
• Creative Community Housing Program (CCHP), which provides individualized and creative short-term assistance to help people stay in their homes.
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Burke's first college degree was in commercial art; she made a minimal salary "designing placemats and whatnot." It wasn't inspiring work, and it didn't earn her enough to live on. To supplement her income, she took a job at a camp for young children who were facing hardships.
This more-demanding job let her help people, but she realized quickly that she needed more training. She signed up for classes in counseling at Notre Dame College in Manchester, New Hampshire, then eventually got her master's degree in counseling from St. Joseph's College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Now, she serves as the family services director for Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA).
Reflecting on her decision to join the BAAH board 27 years ago, she describes BAAH's niche among the service organizations. BAAH is "nimble enough" to deal with problems fairly quickly, without a lot of forms, said Burke.
As an example, she described a single mother whose daughter needed treatments for a sudden health condition. The woman held a job but had no savings to pay rent while she was out of work caring for her daughter.
That's when Burke and BAAH stepped in and created a budget assistance program. Burke worked with the woman to develop a budget plan, where she would pay a small sum each month which she could afford for rent, and BAAH would cover the remainder.
"I liked the people [at BAAH]," said Burke. "They saw a problem and got busy doing something about it."
Nancy Detra serves on the board of Brattleboro Area Affordable Housing. The Commons' Deeper Dive column gives nonprofits elbow room to write in first person and/or be unabashedly opinionated, passionate, and analytical about their own creative work and events.
This News column was submitted to The Commons.