SIT partners with local groups to expand opportunities for migrants

Announcement Date: February 19, 2020

School for International Training is part of a group of southern Vermont organizations that have received a $15,000 planning grant aimed at growing the region’s dwindling workforce by creating a holistic system to expand opportunities and support for legal migrants.

The Working Communities Challenge funding will help the groups prepare a final application for a three-year, $300,000 grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to examine and find solutions to aspects that inhibit migrants from settling in southern Vermont, such as expanding the region’s transportation, assistance with career placements and intercultural skills, and English language learning options. One of SIT’s roles will be to provide English language courses for immigrants.

“We are very proud to be part of this effort, which is closely aligned with SIT’s priorities,” said SIT President Sophia Howlett. “Intercultural understanding is a foundational SIT value. Our faculty have extensive experience working in migrant communities, and our award-winning TESOL program has been training language teachers since 1964.”

The project would build on work currently underway by Community Asylum Seekers Project (CASP), which is based in Rockingham and has been bringing immigrants to Windham County for the past two years. Rockingham resident Steve Crofter started CASP in 2016 after volunteering at the U.S.-Mexico border. His group helped bring the first family to Vermont the following year. Since then, 16 people have been able to leave migrant detention and travel to Vermont.

Coordinated by Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC), the project also includes Bellows Falls Area Development Corporation, Bennington County Industrial Corporation, Bennington County Regional Commission, Southeast Vermont Transit, and Windham Regional Commission.

The groups point out that population growth is key to the well-being of all local residents. “Population decline is harming the economy, and that impacts low-income households disproportionately,” according to a statement by CASP.

BDCC sees migration as a way to boost the workforce in Vermont, which has one of the oldest populations and one of the lowest birthrates in the country, according to recent census data.

The three-year project aims to develop a robust and sustainable system of schools, churches, employers, transportation providers and communities that can work together to counteract population decline by welcoming legal immigrants to the region and preparing them to integrate into local communities.

The Vermont Legislature has designated Windham and Bennington counties as areas of special economic need based on several factors including low wages and income. Population loss and high rates of substance addiction in these counties leave jobs empty and threaten existing employers, according to BDCC.