City Folk Make Friends With Their Neighbors Preparing for Y2K

BURLINGTON, Vt. — If this city loses electricity on Jan. 1, 2000,
and the temperature plummets, the residents of Catherine Street
know they can count on one another for heat, water, expert advice
and anything else they may need.

‘It was a good exercise in community involvement for all of us,’
said Catherine Street resident Beth Haggart, adding that the group
has given her a chance to get acquainted with neighbors she might
not have otherwise met.

Remembering the ice storm that broke tree limbs and downed many
of the region’s power lines in the winter of 1997, the Burlington
residents have made plans that should keep them warm if the heat
and power do go out as a result of Y2K.

Together, they bought several cords of firewood that will be
used to heat two homes on the street with wood stoves. Those homes
will be open to the families who lose heat, said Haggart. The wood,
incidentally, was stacked in the shape of a fort to make a play
area for the neighborhood children.

The neighbors also plan to share the cost of repairing a
nonelectric gas heater one of them owns, she said.

Rather than pooling money to buy food and supplies in bulk for
the entire street, members of each household are storing what is
important to them. Haggart said she will use milk jugs to store
several gallons of water in her basement. Others are stocking up on
cereal, toilet paper, soymilk, beans and rice.

The neighbors say they will share with one another as necessary;
after normal life resumes, leftover food will go to the local
community kitchen.

The seeds for this cooperation were planted when Catherine
Street residents Lanny and Diane Watts received a copy of the ‘Y2K
Citizen’s Action Guide,’ published by Utne Reader.

The message of the booklet, said Lanny Watts, is to prepare for
Y2K by building a strong community. So he and his wife talked to
their immediate neighbors about the idea of starting a local
preparation group. Together, they ordered a case of the action
guides, which they distributed to people on both sides of the
street. The Wattses hosted the initial group gathering at their

The neighbors generally meet each month. Catherine Street
residents take turns hosting the Y2K meetings, which are preceded
by potluck dinners. Seven or eight households are usually

Changing the location of the meetings serves a practical purpose
as well as a social one, Watts said. ‘If something happens and you
have to go into someone’s house [in an emergency], you already know
where the hall is and where the light switch is, that is, if the
light works,’ he said. ‘You don’t feel like a stalker. You feel
like you’re a friend because you’ve sat in their living room with

No one is considered the leader of the group, Haggart said. ‘We
don’t have any hierarchy at all,’ she explained. ‘It’s just our

Some of the group’s first projects were to create a phone
directory of people living on the street and to distribute a survey
to find out about residents’ chronic illnesses and other special

Then the residents divided up the task of researching Y2K. Some
questioned public utilities about their contingency plans. Others
spoke with city officials. The residents of Catherine Street
maintained a presence at city Y2K hearings by sending a delegate
from their group.

Fred Lane recalls serving as the voice of his neighbors during a
public utility meeting about Y2K. ‘I had probably a half-dozen
questions the group wanted me to ask, and then at the next meeting
of course I reported back on what [the utility representatives] had

The neighbors also share information based on their individual
areas of expertise. Lane, a computer consultant, has spoken about
Y2K’s potential effects on personal computers. Watts, a plumber,
will soon be teaching his neighbors how to drain their water

A quiet, residential street, Catherine Street is located seven
blocks from Burlington’s Main Street. Burlington, on Lake
Champlain, is Vermont’s largest city, with approximately 30,000
residents. The residents have found that preparing for Y2K has
brought them together in more ways than one. ‘What happens
usually,’ said Lane, ‘is people will bring up other neighborhood
issues [at the meetings].’ A new city composting plan, the proposal
to build a supermarket, ideas to reduce the speed of traffic
cruising down Catherine Street are all issues the neighborhood
group has discussed over supper.

Lane said the mild crisis posed by Y2K has led to better
neighbor relations and created a social group that very well may
continue to meet after Jan. 1. ‘I think this is taking on a life of
its own,’ he said. ‘At the end of each meeting, there’s a real
effort by us to find another time to get together.’

As for Catherine Street’s Y2K readiness, Haggart said, ‘We’re
all prepared for a couple days of something. Maybe just

Lane said he and his wife are having a celebratory brunch on New
Year’s Day, and the whole street is invited.

Contacts: Beth Haggart, Upper Catherine Street Neighbors
Y2K Group, Burlington, Vt., 802-660-2764. Lanny Watts, Upper
Catherine Street Neighbors Y2K Group, Burlington, Vt.,
802-862-3392. Fred Lane, Upper Catherine Street Neighbors Y2K
Group, Burlington, Vt., 802-862-3392.

COPYRIGHT 1999 The American News Service,
289 Fox Farm Road, Brattleboro , VT 05301. For further information,
please call 1-800-654-NEWS or e-mail

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