You Just Have to Be Inclusive

This guest blog post was written by Veronica Ciambra, the Executive Director of Addison Allies Network, Inc.

Addison Allies Network, Inc. (AAN) is a volunteer-driven nonprofit founded in 2017. AAN helps and supports migrant farmworkers and immigrants living in Addison County, Vermont. Our initial board was composed of all (white) community volunteers. We tried many times to enlarge our board to include equal numbers of our constituents, who are people of color. We felt held back by their difficult schedules, language (constituents are all Spanish speaking), lack of transportation to meetings, but mostly, the obvious power imbalance that inhibited free discussion.

During the pandemic, with funds from the Vermont Community Foundation, we hired an equity and inclusion consultant, Nathan Suter of BUILD. Nathan worked with me, the organization director/coordinator, to plan our meetings. One of the first things Nathan said to me when I explained our difficulties was, "to be inclusive, you just have to be inclusive." This sounds simple, but it made me realize that the things we were letting get in the way were really our implicit biases masked as scheduling problems, language barriers, and especially, expediency. We started having our meetings in Spanish, using ZOOM so no one had to travel to attend, focusing on the constituent members' schedules and using those to inform when meetings would take place, asking their suggestions for agenda items, having an ongoing group chat for regular check-ins (also in Spanish), plus having Nathan facilitate meetings and help us through a leadership transition which focused the discussion on constituent contributions.  

Our board is now composed of majority (7) constituents, who are also very active volunteers for the organization, and white community volunteers (2). As the director, I am a non-voting member of the board. We have very lively discussions with the board making policy decisions for the organization and providing strong leadership.

The transformation has been amazing and gratifying. As director/coordinator, I feel very well supported and able to turn to the board as issues arise that require their direction.

Addison Allies Network (AAN) is a group of volunteers building a stronger, more diverse, and inclusive community by teaching English, providing needed services, and hosting social opportunities to migrant farmworkers living in Addison County, Vermont. If you have questions or for more information about AAN, feel free to send an email to Veronica Ciambra.