- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Elaine Toohey is uniquely qualified as the executive director of Another Way.

Toohey, who helps people struggling with homelessness, once suffered all the same difficulties herself. In her case, it takes one to know one.

Also helping Another Way, located at 125 Barre St., is the Vermont Community Loan Fund. Another Way was one of several organizations to receive funding totaling nearly $1 million from VCLF during the first quarter of 2018. Another Way used its funding to replace a failed roof and porch, repair a dilapidated staircase and restore the fire alarm system to code.

“We had sought funding elsewhere before, and people didn’t take the time to understand the nuances of what we do,” Toohey said, adding that staff at the Vermont Community Loan Fund were willing to support Another Way’s mission and needs. “This project wouldn’t have happened without them.”

More importantly for Toohey, the funding helped to maintain Another Way’s services to central Vermonters who are homeless, unemployed, or suffering with addiction, mental health issues and other life crises. The peer-led nonprofit helps people transition, recover and move toward a better place in their lives.

“Peer support means learning together and taking personal responsibility,” Toohey explained.

Toohey herself is a peer to the people who access Another Way services. She said she twice suffered periods of homelessness, the second time as the mother of two small children.

“I lived on a friend’s land, I had no job, I had no income, I couldn’t find the help I needed,” Toohey said.

“There are nuances of going through those types of life experiences, whether it be recovery from homelessness or substance use or struggling with mental heath - or all of the above. There are nuances of how you relate to other human beings in those situations, if you have been through them yourself,” she added.

Toohey said the relationship between peers is “the basis from which people get better or endure through situations in a safer way.” She said there is “a level of empathy” at Another Way that goes beyond just sympathy or responsibility to respond.

“I know for a fact that through any number of circumstances, I could be back in that same situation,” Toohey said. “I think that’s important in all the work I do and the way I relate to people.”

Toohey’s own recovery would lead to her becoming executive director of Another Way in 2016, leading the organization through a new round of development and growth to cope with increased demand for services.

The latest data show Another Way had 582 clients in the past year, compared with 349 the previous year - a 40 percent increase.

“I think the bigger numbers also mean we’re doing a better job of connecting with people who are experiencing homelessness,” Toohey said.

Some of the increase has been the overflow of clients from the Good Samaritan Haven homeless shelter in Barre into a new shelter at Bethany Church on Main Street in Montpelier, which opened last winter.

Another Way helped conduct the screening process for some of the applicants wanting to stay in the Bethany Church shelter and provided a day center for the homeless in central Vermont. In addition, Another Way was able to connect the homeless with employment opportunities, plus mental health and other social services.

Another Way is planning an open house at the end of summer when all the renovations are finished.

Other financing in the first quarter this year from the VCLF went to Studio Place Arts in Barre, Whitefield Hop Yard in East Hardwick, Bennington-Rutland Opportunities Council, Sweet Pickins Farm in Putney, Champlain Housing Trust, Victory Hemp Foods in Middlebury and PJ’s Child Center in St. Albans. VCLF funds go to small businesses, affordable housing projects, community facilities and early care and learning programs, helping to preserve and create jobs and provide vital services to low-income Vermonters.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2MmhS4V

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Information from: The Times Argus, http://www.timesargus.com/

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