WILMINGTON — Melissa Boyles is getting to know the downtown community as the new Wilmington Works program coordinator.
“I would like to see community development,” she said. “I think that should be the vision. All ideas must go through this funnel.
This month, the downtown organization announced the hiring of Boyles. His background is in business management and environmental studies, according to the announcement.
“Wilmington Works is so grateful to have him on board to help strengthen our downtown communities and bring fresh eyes to creative solutions to the challenges we face,” the organization said.
Meg Staloff, a program coordinator at Wilmington Works for five years, took a position managing the Southern Vermont Economics Project with Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. She was helping organize the Southern Vermont Economy Summit in March and working full-time with the featured agency himself.
“The decision to leave was really based on being ready to take on a bigger role,” she said. “I learned a lot of things.”
The development agency allowed him to stay with Wilmington Works until a successor was found. She also recently moved from Wilmington to Greenfield, Mass.
Boyles grew up in Alabama. After graduating from college, she went to North Carolina and participated in yoga teacher training. Then she bounced between Central America and Alabama seasonally, teaching yoga and hosting a few festivals, then serving tables and nannying when she got back to the States.
She ended up in Wilmington after being introduced to the community by her sister and brother-in-law, Chrystal and Brian Holt. The couple were part of a team that won a business plan competition hosted by Wilmington Works in 2018 and ended up opening 1a Coffee Roasters.
Boyles met her husband in Estonia when she and Chrystal were on day trips from Finland. He started visiting them in Helsinki, and they would meet him in Tallinn.
Boyles and her husband’s first child was born in Estonia. Then they moved to the United States
“I was kind of drowned in motherhood and wanted to be closer to my family,” Boyles said.
She lived in Alabama with her family for about two years before COVID-19 hit and shut everything down. She said her husband had lost both of his jobs.
With the money refunded from a planned trip to Estonia, they bought camping supplies and embarked on a trip to visit Chrystal. Boyles recalled how the narrative at the time seemed to be that it was safe to be on the outside. She said state parks, campgrounds and grocery stores were open.
“All you needed was food and shelter,” she said.
His family traveled from Birmingham to Wilmington, camping along the Appalachian Trail. After visiting her sister and her family, they wanted to stay.
“I realized for the first time what it was like to raise children within the community, which is a game-changer,” Boyles said, describing scenes in which families shared responsibilities such as preparing meals and watch the children, and the children occupied themselves by playing. together. “I saw the light. It was really great. From there, I really wanted that.
Boyles said she was starting to consider more community development.
“It was community, community, community,” she said.
So far, she’s enjoyed escaping what she’s called “the brutal Alabama heat.” And she thinks she can handle the winter in Vermont, after experiencing the cold in northern Estonia. Her husband and son are already snowboarding, and her youngest daughter asks if she can start.
Boyles said she would like to continue helping women with postpartum support. In Alabama, she did that, as well as making quilts, workshops using plant fibers on fabrics, and wedding management. Having various gigs has worked well with her family’s schedule and being a mother.
Chrystal sent Boyles a link to the job posting at Wilmington Works. Staloff had asked Chrystal if she knew anyone who might be interested.
The description mentioned part-time work, community development and event coordination. Boyles said she had experience with all of those things, but she felt nervous about the position being a regular job instead of gigs.
This is the first time she has made such a concrete career decision since graduating from college, when she was in a different country each season.
Boyles described his predecessor as full of energy and ideas. She said the Wilmington Works Board told her that Staloff had taken the job to “a whole new level.”
“She’s a do-everything woman,” Boyles said. “She’s not kidding. So there are big shoes to fill.
Staloff said she thinks it’s “a good time” to leave.
“I think I left the organization in a good position,” she said. “We had just completed a lot of big projects. For someone new who comes in and finds other community projects they can help promote right now, that’s great.
Staloff’s new role will be to help communities in Bennington and Windham counties move projects forward. The credit company will provide training or technical assistance.
Boyles is inspired by Staloff’s initiative to help bring Everyone Eats to the area. The statewide program pays restaurants to prepare free meals to provide to anyone negatively affected by COVID-19.
Staloff also led a community art project on a wall behind The Richards Group near the Old School Community Center. It ended at the beginning of the summer.
Boyles, who is new to writing grants and excited to learn more, said Wilmington Works could apply for funds to replace benches downtown. Staloff mentioned the idea to him.
Boyles wants to bring back the winter festival, which Staloff hosted last year. Boyles is interested in having competitive games as part of the event.
Boyles said she was “trying to feel the possibility” of a craft fair and a holiday market. She said she believed it was important to provide people with the opportunity to purchase Vermont handmade items.
Another idea she comes up with is a bingo night. She sees it as a potential hit with children, the elderly, and everyone in between.
Boyles will help the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce with the Wine Stroll and Soup contest on Sept. 23. Tickets can be purchased at visitvermont.ticketspice.com/2022-vermont-wine-harvest-festival.
Bethaney LaClair, director of the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber, is “really amazing,” Boyles said. “I like him a lot. It’s nice to have this partner who’s right there and part of the time.
Boyles said the focus should be on community building, especially coming out of COVID-19 after people were scared to gather.
“It really hit people hard,” she said. “I think it’s now safe for people to be in the community, and we should cultivate that, I think.”