VT Untapped

Episode 21: Revisiting Irene: ”Weathering the Storm”

August 27, 2021

Nine years ago the Vermont Folklife Center released Weathering the Storm - an audio documentary created with Vermonters from towns across the state hard hit by tropical storm Irene. In this special episode of VT Untapped we are re-presenting “Weathering the Storm” in its entirety to mark the 10th anniversary of this historic event.

Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont on August 28, 2011 causing widespread, catastrophic damage. At VFC we struggled with how to respond to the storm - how could we employ our skills in a way that might actually help people in the present?

Through our conversations we developed what we called the Irene Storytelling Project, at the heart of which resided a series of in person story-sharing events across the state we called “Story Circles.” Late VFC folklorist Greg Sharrow and staff member Aylie Baker developed and refined the idea of Story Circles - structured, community storytelling gatherings where people embroiled in the experience of storm recovery could come together and share.

The Folklife Center sponsored Story Circles in Mendon, Stockbridge, and Rochester, Vermont. In partnership with Starting Over Strong Vermont (an emergency response organization that provided free, short-term support communities impacted by flooding from Irene) we worked with residents of Athens, Brattleboro, Ludlow, Plymouth, Waterbury and Wilmington.

These events were as much about being heard as they were about listening to others. As we came to learn, the Story Circles provided people with a way to give collective voice to the shared trauma of natural disaster. A place to reflect, connect with one another and find strength to move through—and beyond—the storm and its impacts. We were honored to be witnesses to the process. In many ways the Irene Storytelling Project was some of the most significant work we have ever done.

VT Untapped is produced by the Vermont Folklife Center. For more information visit www.vtfolklife.org/untapped

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