Northfield’s new grant development director ‘already off and running’ to maximize funding

Leslie Roberts, a Fairfield, Vermont native and Holyoke resident, took over as Northfield’s grant development director on March 18.

Leslie Roberts, a Fairfield, Vermont native and Holyoke resident, took over as Northfield’s grant development director on March 18. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By LIESEL NYGARD

For the Recorder

Published: 04-14-2024 12:20 PM

NORTHFIELD — Following the unexpected departure of Mallory Sullivan, a new grant development director is “already off and running” to maximize funding opportunities for Northfield.

Leslie Roberts, a Fairfield, Vermont native and Holyoke resident, took over the role on March 18 and has been learning the ropes since then. The position had been vacant since the beginning of January, when Sullivan transitioned from Town Hall to the state’s Executive Office of Economic Development to serve as the rural programs manager.

“I think the silver lining of the first week was just meeting everybody and reaffirming that I’m in a the right spot,” Roberts reflected. “I’ve really gotten a lot of critical questions answered that have helped me better set expectations for myself [and] now I can start to see more beyond the looming deadlines and more of the nuances of ‘OK, here’s the things that are totally manageable [and] here are other things that might be a list.’”

With an interest in infrastructure, Roberts said she’s excited to be involved in securing funding for projects as small as culvert replacements and larger projects like replacing the historic Schell Bridge, which connects the two sides of Northfield over the Connecticut River and has been closed for decades after engineering studies determined it was structurally unsound.

Before accepting the position as grant development director in Northfield, Roberts worked for public health organizations, mostly in the Northampton area, for a couple of years after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in public health. Roberts has worked as a health services counselor at Tapestry, which offers sexual and reproductive health care, food access, family nutrition and harm reduction services. She also worked at Safe Passage, an organization that supports survivors of domestic violence, and was an office manager at Learning Solutions, which conducts evaluations for children and adults with psychological, learning and language needs.

After a while, though, Roberts said she wanted to find ways to work harder to provide “upstream solutions” to some of the “high-level problems” she learned about while working for the Northampton organizations. For instance, Roberts said patients of Tapestry and Safe Passage are typically struggling to find affordable child care, housing and primary care.

These issues made Roberts gain an interest in municipal government and return to UMass Amherst to get a master’s degree in public administration.

“I really just feel like the biggest and best changes that I’ve seen that have a real, concrete impact on people’s lives happen at the local level,” Roberts explained. “I’m kind of interested to be peeking behind the curtain of what keeps the town ticking.”

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Having come from a similar small town of around 2,000 people in Vermont, Roberts was drawn to Northfield.

“I’m from a small rural town that’s really similar to Northfield, or at least Northfield reminds me of it, although my hometown is even smaller,” she said. “That appealed to me about this job.”

According to Town Administrator Andrea Llamas, roughly $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding was set aside to fund the three-year grant development director position. This means that Roberts’ term is fund ed for two years, since Sullivan had already worked for one year with the town.

“We’re very excited to have Leslie on board,” Llamas said. “She’s already off and running, working on some reporting from previous grant s, working on filling out congressionally directed funding requests for the Schell Bridge project, and looking at all the grants that are upcoming in April, May and June already. She’s off and running pretty fast.”