Rotary Club donates $10,000 to Kickstart Middlebury

By Lucy Townend

Benjy Renton
Better Middlebury Partnership is an organization that works to support local businesses through various support programs and events.

The Rotary Club of Middlebury donated $10,000 this spring to Kickstart Middlebury, a program that will offer start-up cash and other support to new businesses looking to occupy storefronts in downtown Middlebury. 

“One of the reasons why we were so excited to support Kickstart Middlebury is that we hope that it was an opportunity to support people who have always supported us,” said Maureen Conrad, president of Middlebury Rotary, in an interview with The Campus. 

The program was launched by Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP) and will offer packages valued at more than $20,000 to three to five applicants. These packages include a cash grant  and free or discounted services from other businesses, such as bookkeeping consultation from the Addison County Economic Development Corporation or print advertising in the Addison Independent. BMP will also help the selected businesses find storefronts in Middlebury and work out their lease agreements. 

“Filling empty storefronts and other spaces is essential to bringing economic vitality and energy back to Middlebury,” Karen Duguay of BMP said in a press release. 

The donation to Kickstart represents a shift in operations for the Rotary Club, as the organization typically supports nonprofits. Since both the Middlebury Bridge and Rail Project and restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have imposed financial strain on local businesses, the Rotary Club wanted to find a way to help. 

“As you drive through downtown Middlebury, it can be a little depressing sometimes to see so many vacant storefronts in such a wonderful town,” Conrad said. “We’ve been looking for opportunities to help the business community, and this seems like a very logical way for us to do that.” 

The decision to use the funds for Kickstart Middlebury was reached through a club vote after Duguay spoke with their members. The donation came from the Rotary Club’s rainy day fund. 

“We’ve been very fortunate over the past two years to develop a little bit of a surplus  — we had a little money put away for a rainy day,” Conrad said. “And we decided that if this wasn’t a rainy day, then we weren’t really sure what would count.” 

Kickstart Middlebury is primarily made possible through funds allocated through the town of Middlebury’s business development fund. Donations, such as that from the Rotary Club, will help the program assist more applicants. 

“With Middlebury Rotary doing this, we’re hoping that it will inspire other businesses and other civic organizations to do the same,” Conrad said. 

In addition to donating to Kickstart Middlebury, the organization also modified the way it will contribute to community suppers sponsored by the Charter House of Middlebury. In a typical year, the Rotary Club volunteers at the community suppers during the holidays  and gives gifts to recipients. 

This year, the Rotary Club bought Middlebury Money to donate to recipients to encourage them to spend money in town instead. Middlebury Money is a check that is drawn against an account owned by BMP at the National Bank of Middlebury. It functions like regular money, but it can only be used at Middlebury businesses. 

This was a big change for us, but it was a wonderful way to help folks in our community that we’ve worked with before,” Conrad said. 

More information about Kickstart Midlebury can be found at kickstartmiddlebury.com.