As a result of Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont has experienced the worst natural disaster since 1927. Across the state of Vermont, there has been a huge outpouring of support from community members looking to volunteer throughout the state. Sarah Waterman and the Reality Venture Capital team has taken on the challenge of bridging the communication gap between volunteers and those in need.
In the hours following the storm, Sarah, with the help, resources, and support of co-workers Matt Sisto and Katy Kent at Reality VC, set up vtresponse.com. The goal of the website is to be an informational resource for volunteers ready to help, listing the who, what, when, where and how of everything related to this natural disaster. The Reality VC team has been in communication with town clerks offices, hundreds of people across the state and Governor Peter Shumlin.
Spearheading the project, Sarah’s experience in disaster relief comes from her work in Biloxi, MS after Hurricane Katrina. Katrina hit while Sarah was preparing to enter graduate school. What started as a two-week volunteer trip ended up being a three-month stay in Biloxi coordinating relief efforts through the NPO All Hands Volunteers. Sarah holds a Master of Public Administration degree from UNC, with a concentration in Public Health. Her master’s research focused on disaster preparedness and response.
In August Sarah partnered with Matt Sisto and his start-up Reality Venture Capital. The company had been geared towards entertainment with plans to expand into NPO’s and web-based venture capital at some point in the future. But when the hurricane struck their home state it became clear that, with the resources in place to build websites and run them, and Sarah’s background in relief efforts and public administration, Reality VC had something much more important to do.
Safety has been a major concern during this undertaking. It is understood that although people have been ready to volunteer, time needs to be given for professionals to go in and assess any damages and insure the safety of roads, structures, etc.
Social media has played a huge role in the relief effort. The hashtag #VTresponse quickly became popular Monday morning on Twitter, and real-time updates of the situation across the state have been prevalent. Even Governor Shumlin has continuously updated his Twitter account throughout the storm and aftermath. By Monday evening, vtresponse.com had over 8,000 visits to the site. Two days later the site had received over 5,000 emails and 95,000 page views.
A true grassroots effort, vtresponse.com has been largely successful due to the overwhelming desire of Vermonters to help their fellow Vermonters during this difficult time, something that is not surprising at all to residents state wide. In the wake of such a terrible disaster, a strong sense of community has risen and given validation that Vermont will come out of this on top.
We are focusing all efforts now at the task at hand, which is to get help to those in need across the state. If members of the media would like further information on anything mentioned in the above press release, please send an email to the address listed below and we will contact you as soon as we can.