Mount Abe-based heating nonprofit lands $25K grant

VERMONT — Run by student volunteers, the nonprofit Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative, or VSHI, since 2008 has helped install more than 20 pellet stoves in low-income homes across Addison and Washington counties. And the organization’s work has not gone unnoticed.
Richard Moffi, fuel assistance chief for the state of Vermont, earlier this month allocated $25,000 to the organization, which was founded by Tom Tailer, a physics teacher at Mount Abraham Union High School. This will be enough money to provide 10-20 low-income households with pellet stoves.
“The department feels confident that the VSHI model of converting oil, kerosene and possibly propane heating systems to a renewable and lower cost resource like wood pellets is an excellent model,” said Moffi. “The work that’s been done with low-income recipients has already been successful.”
One stipulation in the funding grant is that half of that money must go to low-income households outside of Addison County. The state wants to see if the VSHI model can expand to other communities across the state and attract enough volunteers to make it viable elsewhere.
“The challenge that the VSHI project has met both in Addison County and in central Vermont is with putting together the local resources to carry out a project like this,” said Moffi. “I think that’s the biggest challenge because if you don’t have the community-based volunteers, any program like this is not going to be successful.”
When VSHI works with a local household, volunteers often help renovate the home, better insulate it and deliver tons of pellets. Finding volunteers who are committed to such an undertaking is critical to VSHI’s success outside of Addison County.
That’s why Tailer plans to work with town energy committees. Last week, he contacted committee leaders around the state, and several towns have expressed interest in administering the VSHI program.
On April 9, Mount Abe VSHI volunteers will head to the Vermont Statehouse to meet with 300 other Vermont students and teachers attending the inaugural event for the Vermont Global Issues Network, where they’ll learn about and discuss critical issues facing the world. At that event, the Mount Abe students will reach out to students from across the state to set up satellite volunteer groups in their respective counties.
Moffi thinks Tailer and the Mount Abe students’ approach to involving local governments and other students is the right idea.
“The department is convinced this is an outstanding model,” he said. “Building (the VSHI program) with local community resources is really, really critical.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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