- Need: To reduce opioid use and increase quality of life in Rutland, Vermont.
- Intervention: Project VISION works to reduce opioid use through community engagement.
- Results: Since 2012, Project VISION has collected and disposed of 550 pounds of unused medications, reduced thefts by over 32%, and had a 50% improvement on a neighborhood quality of life survey.
In recent years, opioid distribution and addiction have been hitting rural communities hard. Increased use of heroin and misuse of prescription medications have led to an increase in crime and a decrease in many neighborhoods' quality of life. Rutland, Vermont, a community of about 16,500 people, is working to save a 12-block area within the Northwest neighborhood through a coalition called Project VISION.
Instead of just making more arrests to combat the increase in crime, Project VISION has been working since 2012 to address the underlying issues of crime, such as mental illness, poverty, and substance abuse. The VISION Center is located on the second floor of the Rutland City Police Department in order to increase collaboration among law enforcement, health and social services, and other community leaders.
Project VISION boasts over 450 volunteers donating their time and resources to make their community "one of the healthiest, safest, and happiest places in America." This coalition includes volunteers from already existing organizations such as:
- City of Rutland
- Colleges and schools
- Faith-based groups
- Health service agencies
- Local, county, state, and federal agencies
- Probation & Parole Department
- Social services
Project VISION has three committees:
- Building Great Neighborhoods
- Crime and Safety
In 2014, the City of Rutland and the Rutland Redevelopment Authority received a $1.25 million Vermont Community Development Program grant, used by NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (NWWVT) to raze or rehabilitate blighted housing and to encourage residents to become homebuyers. NWWVT is a member of NeighborWorks America, working in collaboration with Project VISION committees to coordinate community development and organize events in neighborhoods.
The Rutland City Police Department identified one commander as Project VISION's executive director to show a commitment to community engagement and the solving of serious issues related to opiate use. In addition, the police have increased their presence in Rutland's Northwest neighborhood through directed patrols, park/walk/talk to engage neighbors on an equal footing, and delivery of custom notifications to drug traffickers living in the neighborhood.
In 2014, a large number of arrests were made for drug offenses. This effort was a collaboration with the Vermont Drug Task Force. Offenders who sold heroin were either sent to Federal Court or Vermont District Court. About 7 offenders – identified as non-violent and only using drug sales to survive – were selected for Drug Treatment Court, and all but one accepted. Since Rutland uses the Drug Market Intervention (DMI) model, the arrestees were invited to a modified "call-in" with an influential adult (such as a relative or caring friend) and, after receiving community and social services messages, they received a message from the Police Chief. Upon completion of the program (average length of one year), the offender would receive misdemeanor charges for drug possession instead of felony drug sales charges.
Project VISION supported the opening of the West Ridge Center, which treats over 925 patients with opioid use disorder. Through the center's hub-and-spokes model, patients receive medication-assisted treatment (MAT) at the hub and buprenorphine treatment at a spoke doctor's office. The hub provides wrap-around social services in addition to group and individual counseling.
In addition, Project VISION, through its community work, hosts or supports events such as block parties to encourage a sense of neighborliness and community pride. Project VISION depends on the generosity of organizations, businesses, and individuals to be able to offer small "pearl" grants. Local individuals or organizations looking to assist Project VISION can receive these grants of up to $1,000 for new programs or for activities in collaboration with new partners.
The Rutland City Police Department have partnered with the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services and hired a full-time Human Trafficking Case Manager who is providing direct service case management to human trafficking victims in southern Vermont.
Since 2014, Building Great Neighborhoods has:
- Cleaned front porches and built planters for Northwest neighborhood homes
- Supported Rutland Blooms in planting 75 trees
- Supported a $5 million sewer separation project in the Northwest sector
- Continued work to increase owner-occupied homes from 32% to 50%
- Been supporting NeighborWorks of Western Vermont in its work to tear down properties and repurpose as a park, partnering with the Recreation Department and revitalizing properties as single-family homes or owner-occupied duplexes
- Been supporting NeighborWorks in its community development and community organizing activities
Since 2014, Crime and Safety has:
- Continued to provide support to the Rutland County Drug Treatment Court
- Added a Counter Drug Analyst to assist the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Community Response Team
- Reduced recidivism to 26% for offenders who volunteered to meet with one of three Re-Entry Panels
- Initially reduced the total number of burglaries by 60% over 3 years. Now, the community is experiencing a 56% reduction overall since 2013.
- Renewed focus on community engagement
Since 2014, Community Health has:
- Added a substance abuse counselor as an embedded partner in the Probation & Parole offices
- Saw 101 providers attend open forum meetings called the Coffee Klatsch
- Installed 2 drop boxes for prescription drugs
- Collected and properly disposed of 550 pounds of unused medication
- Contracted with a strategic change consultant to change the committee name in order to reflect more of a community health focus, with the opiate crisis as a priority
- Been supporting ARCH (Accountable Rutland Community Health) and engaging new healthcare partners in community health initiatives, including Community Health Care Rutland Region (a Federally Qualified Health Center)
- Been supporting a new partnership between NeighborWorks and the Rutland Regional Medical Center to eliminate home environmental barriers regarding asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (for relapsing patients)
- Implemented a housing subcommittee focused on recovery housing and transitional housing (individuals requiring safe housing to be discharged from the Rutland Regional Medical Center)
Choose established or promising program models that you are able to teach your team, committee, and/or community.
Add a researcher to your team. Project VISION discovered that a University of Miami researcher lived in their community. From this researcher, program members learned where to find resources and models and how to use a logic model to focus on outcomes, time and task responsibilities, and other related activities.
Look for early successes to celebrate. Some volunteers and other program members will be looking for immediate results, so ask them to take ownership of short-term outcomes. Publicly give credit to the "doers" and their organization(s).
Let volunteers have ownership. If some volunteers' plans don't match your own, let them choose their own team, set their own outcomes, build a budget, and manage their project. This type of ownership helps volunteers feel appreciated, brings in new ideas, and delegates work.
Remember that change requires collaboration. Everyone needs to be in the same book and on the same page.
Instead of a governance board, Project VISION identified a Chair, Executive Director, and committee chairs. Each committee identifies 3-5 outcomes per year and creates an annual report to post on Project VISION's website. Project VISION is not a 501(c)3, instead enlisting a qualified nonprofit as its fiduciary agent.
To assist other communities looking to rebuild their neighborhoods, Project VISION's Learn More page shares online resources like the Community Builders network, the evidence-based DMI approach, and the National Network for Safe Communities. Project VISION received DMI training from Michigan State University and works directly with the National Network at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
Community engagement and volunteerism
Criminal justice system
Illicit drug use
Prescription drug abuse
July 20, 2016
Date updated or reviewed
July 31, 2019
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.