by Francesca Kitch, Community Journalist
HARDWICK – In the former Gazette building on South Main Street, two women listened to the town outside their door. Together in the nonprofit they co-founded, The Civic Standard, Tara Reese and Rose Friedman coordinate “collaborative, cultural organizing” throughout Hardwick. From trivia and karaoke nights to poetry writing gatherings and free meals, The Civic Standard tunes in to community needs and responds in ways that both strengthen relationships between neighbors and introduce new ones.
The organization was founded during the summer of 2022, subsisting off an original grant of ARPA funds. Since then, they have worked to build sustainable networks to operate full time. “The beauty of doing this all the time, rather than just in a moment of crisis or in response to an event, is that we have a kind of a community and a network of people that are in and out of here all the time, and everyone is sort of ready to make that shift to the best of their ability” Reese says.
When recent flooding tore through the community, their preexisting volunteer base and mailing list, social media following, and relationships with organizations, institutions and individuals allowed them to shift their mission in short order. Since the flooding, the Civic Standard has worked to accommodate relief and recovery of impacted areas and people. On the night of the flood two weeks ago, they organized an emergency shelter as flooding damaged a number of houses. The Civic immediately set to work trying to find sites for residents to relocate to, which proved to be a challenging task: landowners of apartment complexes lamented that they were at capacity “feeling sick to their stomach about that reality.” Reese and Friedman proceeded to call friends and post on social media, accessing volunteer networks to find housing for displaced people.
They continued to support the families they met that first night and others that the town notified them of, getting groceries to those stuck in their driveways, baking casseroles for houses without working stoves, and having intense one-on-one conversations about what individuals had experienced and what options were available for moving forward.
“The Civic is kind of hard to explain and it suddenly became way easier when everybody realized ‘oh this is what you were already doing’ and ‘oh, now it makes sense why this needs to happen all the time,’” Friedman relayed. The Civic “is food, it is ‘hi, how are you?’, it is sitting on a couch in the back and meeting another neighbor who’s coming in.”
For Reese and Friedman, it’s also about having a consistent presence. Volunteers filter in and out of their door all day to cook for that night’s community dinner, pick up rocking chairs, or prepare for the Dungeons and Dragons club in the back room. Everyone is welcome and constantly checking in with each other.
The Civic Standard is an effort to make the community of Hardwick its own, capitalizing on rural Vermont’s interconnection and interdependence. Yet, while its founders believe that Hardwick’s Civic Standard is a great model for what other towns can have, “every town has to find the one that is theirs. It’s not a franchising thing because it needs to be so individualized and particular to the town culture and spirit. It’s all about being there, listening,” Friedman says.
And this is what they plan to continue to do. As we move further from the devastating storms, they will keep listening to what the community needs, getting everyone back on their feet and making them feel supported and heard the whole way.