The Ottaquechee Health Foundation (OHF) states, “There is no other organization in the region doing what OHF does for our communities.” What sets OHF apart from other local organizations – and other organizations with similar missions – is that the Foundation offers financial assistance to people with unmet medical expenses and homecare needs. In addition to providing financial assistance, OHF improves the health and well-being of residents through community events and partnerships, education opportunities, and the support of wellness initiatives. Based in Woodstock, the Foundation assists the healthcare needs of nine towns: Barnard, Bridgewater, Hartland, Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Quechee, Reading, and Woodstock.  

Hats, mittens, and scarves donated to the Sharing the Warmth initiative in 2020.

Executive Director Tayo Kirchhof and Grants Coordinator Beth Robinson are deeply committed to their work serving residents. When Tayo Kirchoff learned of the Foundation’s search for a new leader in 2018, she was immediately interested. Sherry Thornburg, OHF’s former Executive Director, helped Tayo and her mother navigate the elder system and offered great recommendations of support networks and resources. Along with those personal interactions, Tayo worked professionally with Sherry through work at the Artistree Community Arts Center. She developed a friendship with Sherry and gained a knowledge of the good work accomplished by the organization in our communities. Tayo reflects, “It felt very soul-satisfying to move into this position with an organization with such a wonderful reputation that does such wonderful things for its community members.”

 The Foundation’s Board of Trustees is a talented team of community members representing all nine service towns. The Foundation’s Board of Trustees is led by President Mary Young-Breuleux, who shares, “I became involved [with OHF] because I’m passionate about health care. I’m a retired nurse practitioner, and I knew that the Foundation did great work in supporting people who had needs around health and wellness, particularly financial needs.” 

Last year, requests for financial assistance totaled $11,860 from Quechee residents. (The Foundation received over $300,000 in grant requests from all nine service towns.) Financial assistance is used for health and wellness services like medical care, dental care and dentures, hearing aids, eyeglasses, caregiver support, and counseling. These vital health services might not otherwise have been available to recipients without grant funding. OHF pays medical providers directly and often works in partnership with providers to coordinate services. Financial assistance is provided to individuals through the Good Neighbor Grants and Homecare Grants, and OHF also assists organizations through Community Grants.

Quechee resident and retired Registered Nurse Carol Stall joined OHF’s Board of Directors one year ago. Carol and her husband have owned a home in Vermont for over 30 years, 20 of those in Quechee. In addition to serving on the OHF’s Board of Trustees, she is the Vice President of the Quechee Garden Club and a member of the Community Affairs Committee of the Quechee Lakes Landowner’s Association. Carol shares, “It’s a wonderful community, not just Quechee, but the greater community: everybody is looking to help our community, as well as the surrounding communities, in any way they possibly can.” At OHF, she says, “I found them to be a group of very professional, compassionate group of individuals who want to help the surrounding community, and we’ve done a lot.” Her work on the grants committee over the past year has been “very fulfilling.” In response to the Covid crisis, OHF partnered with public schools, and Carol says, “They provided sanitizing stations at the Ottauquechee School, and this year [their] program, Share the Warmth, provided hats and scarves for the comfort of the children during the winter months.”

Grants Coordinator, Beth Robinson, and Board of Trustees President, Mary Young-Breuleux, help distribute fresh veggies to area residents (2020)

“Share the Warmth” invited residents to create items to help keep people warm during the cold winter months. Knitters and crocheters answered the call for support, and OHF collected hundreds of items – hats, scarves, mittens – for distribution in the Foundation’s nine service area towns. After the success of the first year of the initiative in 2020, it has become an annual event. Hundreds of items were distributed to various sites, including schools, community buildings, food shelves, and churches.

Ottauquechee School Principal Amelia Donahey shares how OHF’s support has helped the school. “The Ottauquechee Health Foundation has reached out several times during the pandemic with timely and crucial support. First, in August of 2020, Beth Robinson invited our school to apply for a grant, which allowed us to purchase numerous hand sanitizer stations for the school. This allowed not only for greater health and safety, but also timely transitions, since the dispensers are at critical areas, such as on the path to recess and in the cafeteria hallway,” she states. “More recently, OHF donated a large basket of beautiful, hand-knit hats and mittens for children. The kids love the bright colors, and they are a helpful resource for our students who don’t have quick, easy access to replacement warm gear when their gear wears out or is lost.” 

OHF began as a health center in the Simmons House in Woodstock in the 1950s

Share the Warmth was created by the Communications Committee of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees and originally co-chaired and coordinated by Mary Young-Breuleux, President, and Stephen D’Agostino, Secretary. Mary shares, “As a knitter and as someone who has brought boxes to the nursery schools and [other distribution partners], the response from the recipient, the new wearer of the item, and the [partners] is so positive. People are just so delighted that they have brand-new, warm items to wear. It’s been a tremendous project for all of us and a feel-good project all the way.”

With Covid, the Foundation expanded its granting policy to assist eligible applicants with medical expenses due to the pandemic. The needs include unforeseen medical bills, insurance co-pays, and other health and wellness requests that fall outside of their usual granting policies. Throughout the global health crisis, OHF continued to offer virtual education opportunities and programs focused on prevention, including two insurance education workshops, and anxiety education through film screenings.

Luckily for the community, the Ottauquechee Health Foundation will continue to share the warmth through each of these programs, initiatives, and special events in the upcoming year.

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