Mad River Valley, Vermont

After a long process of community engagement, planning, fundraising and site development, Open Hearth, a community nonprofit organization, is taking a break this year from its long-stated goal of building a community center.

At the annual meeting in January, the Open Hearth board of directors decided to focus this year’s efforts on new and existing programming under the 501c3 umbrella. “We are an incubator for community supportive programs,” said Kaiya Korb, treasurer and member of the board of directors. “We have structures in place to assist with insurance, fiduciary responsibilities, financial management and general organization, as well as an experienced board that can offer guidance. The name Open Hearth is a metaphor for our organization’s purpose, which is to provide a gathering spot for the community to come together in whatever ways are needed.”

Historically, Open Hearth’s activities have included building the community playground next to the Big Picture Theater, supporting the skateboard park in Warren, offering the Circus Minimus youth summer camp, supporting numerous children’s play groups and starting up several youth after-school programs. Over the last few years, the organization has successfully operated the Open Hearth After School child care program for Fayston and Waitsfield students, coordinated the Kids Fun Run for the Mad Marathon, and administered the Nitwits service providing chemical-free lice treatments to families of the Mad River Valley. The after-school child care program has recently expanded to include child care during school vacations as well.

“As a community we operate in silos. When we look around to see the programmatic voids, it’s clear there is a need for an organization to help programs to be sustainable and connected to each other,” said Rebecca Baruzzi, newly elected president of the Open Hearth board of directors. “In this spirit, the Village, a virtual community center, will operate under the Open Hearth umbrella.” The Village is a website displaying information on local activities, as well as connecting users to scholarships and eventually to transportation options. Users will be able to learn about places of worship, the community support team, recreational activities and food shelf hours all on one central website.

“The Valley Reporter does a great job of keeping us informed; this tool will be the next step in getting us better connected,” said Baruzzi.



 “We have a tremendous untapped resource in the diverse adults in our community. I’d love to support our youth in further accessing these adults, especially those not already affiliated with these kids,” Korb added.

To further create community connection and to add to the support system of children, Korb has long envisioned a youth mentoring program. Susan Colgan, a Warren resident, has offered to help lead the work of establishing such a program under the auspices of Open Hearth.

Longtime board member Annemarie Furey also expressed excitement about the Village website. “The use of technology as a means to streamline communication within our community and promote opportunities that currently exist in our local area is low-hanging fruit for creating strong community connections beyond traditional groupings.”

“While the board is excited about these new developments, members also recognize the long-term importance of providing permanent facilities that offer year-round recreational and social venues to inspire increased vitality and connectivity in the Mad River Valley. AnnMarie Harmon remains committed to building an accessible park for families and Brian Degen continues to emphasize the importance of a multigenerational community center in providing opportunities for community youth while strengthening the economic underpinnings of the community,” Baruzzi said.

Open Hearth was established in 2002 to collaborate with local organizations and residents to promote, support, create and sustain quality, multigenerational, community facilities and programs that encourage healthy interaction between all ages and promote the connectedness of our community.

Those interested in helping build the mentoring program, village virtual community center, park or other related project can contact Baruzzi at 496-6475.