Maura Collins Celebrates Over 13 Years on the Pathways Vermont Board of Directors

When I was first approached about serving on the Pathways Vermont board of directors, I said no.

I was flattered to be asked and very polite in my response, but I still said no.

I had worked in the housing field since moving to Vermont in 2002, and I felt like I understood the market, the players, and the system. All the cards were stacked against this brand-new agency. They had the audacity to say we could end homelessness in Vermont by moving from our traditional shelter system to a Housing First model. Maybe that works in New York, but not in our rural state, I thought.

I watched from the sidelines as my friend Brian Smith, who worked at Vermont’s Department of Mental Health, applied for the seed funding four times before it was finally successful. Each time he applied, I was hopeful and impressed at his tenacity as he convinced the state to support the federal application year after year.

When the federal grant finally came, I was asked to consider joining the board. I’ll admit to being star-struck by the pioneer of the Housing First model, Dr. Sam Tsemberis (who just last month was named one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2024 by Time Magazine). Dr. Tsemberis was the first board member of Pathways Vermont, and I remember the day he and Hilary Melton came to my office to talk about their new organization.

I sat and listened to the amazing work they had accomplished together in New York City more than a decade earlier and saw the hope in their eyes when they talked about how they could bring that same success to Vermont. They had proven that housing – without the preconditions of sobriety, medication management, or any number of the barriers the system put in the way of serving people – was the answer to homelessness.

They had modest goals: to house 240 individuals currently living outside or in shelters and find them housing in the Burlington area. They were going to specifically work with the folks who had fallen through the cracks. Their focus was to first serve the men and women who had fired their case workers, rejected the medical model of treatment, or lived rough for decades.

They explained that during their first few years, they would prove that it would be cheaper to house these individuals in an apartment while providing them services like employment support, help with transportation, and connections to others who could understand their journey.

I smiled, listened, and told them I couldn’t help.

I shudder to remember this and am embarrassed to admit it, but I just didn’t think it would work here in Vermont.

Even in 2009, it was going to be near impossible to find that many apartments. And the landlord community is small. And they talk to each other. So, if any of the folks whom Pathways was working with had a bad outcome or were evicted, I thought it would be over for Pathways. They’d never have a chance to work in this town again.

I said no because I hadn’t yet met the team at Pathways. I hadn’t been introduced to the amazing connection possible through Intentional Peer Support. I hadn’t yet seen the power that choice has when given to someone who has long not felt agency over their own life. I said no because I was used to how we had always done things.

Thankfully, Hilary and Sam moved forward and found others who could see their vision. Hilary built a dedicated team and quickly grew well beyond the boundaries of Burlington. After a few years, the evidence-based research project was published and proved what they said would be the case: 85% of the people served were successfully housed. Pathways Vermont would go on to save the State of Vermont millions annually in ER visits, police interactions, and hospitalizations. Meanwhile, the people served stabilized, reconnected with their children, got jobs, and were embraced in the community.

Three years after that first meeting, I tucked my tail between my legs, called Hilary, and asked if we could meet. I told her how I had been watching Pathways’ success. I was impressed with how much of the state they had already grown to cover and how different the streets of Burlington seemed now that so many people were stably housed.

I asked her how I could help. I was wrong initially, but I didn’t want that to stop me from doing what I could to help carry out the mission. I (finally) saw her vision, and it was beautiful. I wanted to help.

She generously helped me become the fourth board member at Pathways. Within a year, I was serving as chair, and I remained in that role for about a decade.

This September, I will have served over 13 years on the Board of Pathways Vermont. My values, my outlook, my parenting, my compassion, and my whole existence have been positively impacted by my connection to this organization. They have changed our state, our systems, and my life forever.

While my time spent in board meetings with Pathways may be ending, my time spent giving – financially and in service – will not. Like both of my parents before me, I have made sure that Pathways Vermont is a major part of my estate planning, and I will continue to root for Hilary and the entire team as they continue to blaze new paths.

I know they are changing the world, one connection at a time. And we are lucky to have them doing that work in our Brave Little State.

Two women standing close together and smiling. The woman on the left, Maura Collins, is wearing a patterned dress and has curly brown hair. The woman on the right, Mary Frances Collins, is wearing a white shirt and has short white hair. They are standing in front of a Pathways Vermont banner.
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