"In Vermont, Realizing What It Means to Be a Leader" (Featured on the PICO website: www.piconetwork.org)
Virginia Munkelwitz from College Street Congregational Church in Burlington, VT remembers the exact moment that she realized that she was a leader. Munkelwitz, a member of PICO affiliate Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA), recalls being at a Burlington city council meeting and hearing someone mention that the developer of a new complex on the Lake Champlain waterfront was backing out of his original commitment to build seven units of affordable housing.
“My original thought was, ‘I have to tell Debbie so that she can do something about this,’” recalled Munkelwitz, referring to VIA Executive Director Debbie Ingram. “I thought that we should write a letter to the housing review board, and Debbie said, ‘That’s a great idea, why don’t you get it done and I’ll take a look at it?,’” recalled Munkelwitz.
For the former computer programmer, that step to take action herself rather than look to others to act first was a pivotal moment in understanding her power.
“I ended up doing a lot of research and really understanding what the issue was all about,” said Munkelwitz. “If you had asked me at the beginning if I could do this I would have said ‘forget it.’ I’m the last person you’d think to be reading legal documents. But nobody else was doing it and so I started. And soon everyone was looking to me as the expert.”
Munkelwitz first learned about VIA by attending a town hall meeting on housing at Burlington’s Unitarian Church. Recalling her attendance at the meeting, Munkelwitz commented, “I just loved the level of action they were taking. I considered it soeffective to work to change the city’s laws. To me this was just right,” recalled Munkelwitz.
“The fact that it was interfaith was really important to me…that people of different faiths could get together and be so effective while still expressing their faith – it was really amazing.”
Little did Munkelwitz realize that just over a year later, she would be one of the key organizers of a meeting with Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss on the need to re-examine the city’s process to develop affordable housing.
“This was really an egregious betrayal of the public trust. The process was almost set up so as to let something like this happen,” said Munkelwitz. “I learned that I could figure out something that I knew nothing about,” said Munkelwitz.
“From my point of view this is exactly the sort of thing I want to do with my time.”