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How Mother Nature Changed Our Plans … But Not Our Message

Monday, February 11, 2013 - 3:17 pm EST
Stuart Comstock-Gay

I’ve long been wary about in-house videos. Because, let’s face it, videos can be tough to pull off. So it was with some trepidation that we decided not just to make our first set of short videos this year, but to feature them at our 25th anniversary annual meeting-indeed, to make them the centerpiece of the program for the afternoon.

We found a fabulous filmmaker and put together a great list of interviews. And when the rough cuts were done, we were really happy with how things were going. Two weeks before the meeting, things were beginning to fall into place. We had lined up performers, bluegrass musicians, and great local food at an iconic Vermont location, Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Our founders and their families were going to be there. And the videos telling the story of our foundation’s beginning, the power of giving, and the community’s vision for the future were almost ready.

Then came Tropical Storm Irene. We did what any community foundation would: We canceled the meeting, delayed the video debut, and focused on Irene relief and recovery work. The day of our planned meeting, the road to Bread Loaf was still missing, washed away in the floods along with 250 other roads in Vermont.

The videos were ready since our filmmaker had heroically finished them even as his own home was flooded and he helped his neighbors recover, but they had no place to go. So we shared them at staff and board meetings, and we figured they would “keep” until 2012’s tentatively scheduled “25-plus-1″annual meeting.

But then a funny thing happened. As volunteers mucked out the homes of strangers, kids contributed the earnings from their lemonade stands to help affected farmers, and contractors and mobile home owners worked together to put their neighborhoods back together, our appreciation and love for our communities grew stronger and stronger. We realized that although the original purpose of the videos had been muddied by the waters, so to speak, the themes expressed therein-community, love, hope for the future-shone brighter than ever.

We think they tell the story not just of a particular community foundation, but of what philanthropy can accomplish in a community. So we’ve been using the videos for inspiration when we talk about the flood recovery efforts underway in Vermont. We hope they resonate with you as well. I might suggest you start with the future inspiration video. It’s my favorite.

And let us not forget that a “thank you” to those who donated and volunteered can be just as inspirational.

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