#VTResponse Says Volunteer Numbers Dropping

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(Host) Organizers of a social media Web site that coordinates flood-relief volunteers say they’ve already seen a drop-off in the number of people offering to help clean up.

As VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, VTResponse.com is now trying to rekindle the volunteer spirit and make sure assistance remains available.

(Carapezza) Matt Sisto sits in his comfortable Burlington apartment, looking over Lake Champlain.

There’s a map of Vermont resting on a stationary bike. Push pins mark towns where VTResponse has what Sisto calls "boots on the ground."

Sisto is the co-founder of VTResponse.com, and he’s leaving messages for volunteers spread out across southern Vermont.

(Sisto) "We call and ask, ‘How are you doing? Do you think you’re gonna need more help?’ We’re trying to connect as many dots as we can."

(Carapezza) Those dots are calls for help; more bleach, more masks, more hands to move debris. Hundreds of people have volunteered for those tasks. But Sisto says recruiting volunteers is growing more difficult.

The VT Response site quickly launched two weeks ago and had a surge of interest. But Sisto says traffic to the site has dropped by more than 80 percent.

(Sisto) "I think there was a tendency right after the hurricane hit for people to say, ‘What can I do to get involved?’ So I think initially we blew up because people wanted to get involved immediately.’"

(Carapezza) Now, Sisto is worried as Irene fades from national headlines, Vermonters will be less inclined to check in on smaller communities like Jamaica, Cavendish, Reading, Rochester and Plymouth. These small towns were devastated by the storm, but are just now ready to accept help.

(Sisto) "People have been inundated with a media message about how much they have to care and how much there is to do. And at a certain point I think there probably is a threshold.  I don’t know where that is."

(Carapezza) In Granville, Asah Rowles just hopes that threshold hasn’t been reached.

(Rowles) "You know, we’ve kind of been put on the back burner."

(Carapezza) Irene washed away homes and roads in Granville, and Rowles says the enthusiasm to repair them over the past two weeks is now waning.

She says the key to rebuilding Granville will be restoring that volunteer spirit.

(Rowles) "And actually getting homeowners to accept outside help."

(Carapezza) To make sure there’s a steady stream of volunteers in Granville and elsewhere, VTResponse is now organizing "voluntourists." It will team up with Ski Vermont to offer packages that include a stay at a Vermont bed and breakfast – as long as you give a little back in the flood zone.

For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza

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