In May 2020, Rachel Hellman graduated with honors from Washington University in St. Louis and began looking for a job in journalism. His timing was terrible. The number of American journalists has been declining for years, and the early days of the pandemic exacerbated this trend. “There were a lot more layoffs then than hirings,” Hellman recalled in a phone interview from his current home in Brooklyn.
So Hellman turned to AmeriCorps, a national service organization, and found a position as a carpenter with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Originally from New York, she had never been to Vermont — or done carpentry — but she gave it a try.
Hellman spent the fall of 2020 repairing lean-tos and building backcountry composting toilets at Vermont state parks as part of a six-person crew. She learned to use power tools, camped in a tent, cooked meals over a campfire, and marveled at the foliage season in the Elmore and Groton State Forests. “It was a pretty magical moment,” she said.
Enamored with the state, Hellman stayed for a year, working at Roam in Montpelier and the Plainfield Co-op, followed by a six-month stint at Field Stone Farm in Northfield. Still a journalist, she also saw “stories” around her and offered to write them freelance to various media, including the boston globe and Hiker. She said she had never felt so close to a community before.
His year of working and reporting in central Vermont was excellent training for a full-time writing job at Seven days. Beginning June 1, Hellman will cover challenges, opportunities, and innovations in small rural towns across the state. We found it through Report for America, which recruits talented and motivated “emerging” journalists and deploys them to local newsrooms across the country. The non-profit organization has grown in step with national needs. In 2017, RFA placed 59 “corps members”; this year it will deploy 300, including Hellman. He announced the names and news outlets yesterday.
RFA’s parent association, the GroundTruth Project, pays half the corps member’s salary for the first year; the percentage of its subsidy decreases in the second and third years. Seven days needs to raise the rest — and we did, thanks to a matching grant from Vermont Coffee founder Paul Ralston and another local person who wishes to remain anonymous.
Both donors see the struggles for affordable housing, mental health care, equitable education, addiction treatment and economic independence unfolding in rural Vermont – often far from the media spotlight. These are concerns Hellman is eager to cover.
In her RFA application, she wrote, “For the past year I have worked as a freelance journalist covering issues ranging from forestry in Vermont to flooding in the Midwest. I have seen with my own eyes how good reporting can strengthen democracy in small communities.
Help her get started by sending her story ideas and tips to [email protected]
Paula Routly is on vacation and will return next week.