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For summer programs serving Vermont kids, a big boost

Nearly $4 million from state initiative will help youth rebound from isolation

BRATTLEBORO—After a year of mostly virtual learning from home and being without daily contact with friends and other social engagement, Vermont students will return to in-person schooling this fall.

But first, the state wants to make the summer count by funding enrichment programs to help ease that year-long isolation.

To that end, Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and a South Burlington–based nonprofit, Vermont Afterschool, have announced the recipients of the Summer Matters for All grant program.

In round one, $3.85 million was awarded to approximately 100 programs in 13 of the state’s 14 counties to expand access to summer enrichment opportunities for K-12 youth this summer.

Recipients and awards in Windham County include:

• Green Mountain Camp for Girls in West Dummerston, for high school and middle school youth, $29,500.

• Mountain Communities Supporting Education (The Collaborative) in Londonderry, for elementary and middle school youth, $66,950.

• Youth Services of Brattleboro, for middle school and high school youth, $64,714.

• Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center of West Brattleboro, for elementary and middle school youth, $30,400.

• In-Sight Photography Project of Brattleboro, for high school and middle school youth, $30,851.

Scott emphasizes helping Vermont kids recover from the pandemic and the isolation it caused, including creating opportunities for them to safely reconnect with their peers and their communities.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we must do all we can to help kids gain back what they lost, especially those social connections and the important development that comes along with it,” Scott said in a news release. “I’m pleased to have worked with Senator Sanders and all our partners to put this grant program forward, which will help make sure there are more accessible, educational, and fun options for kids and families this summer.”

The grants were aimed specifically at non-school recipients, as school camps already receive some funding.

Building a better summer

Green Mountain Camp for Girls, founded in 1917, will use its money to support its Launching Leaders program for girls ages 14 to 16.

“They’re at a vulnerable age; they can’t drive and there’s not a lot to do in the summer,” says Billie Slade, the camp’s executive director.

“This year, 30 girls will attend for two to four weeks, working with mentors and other young women to find out if they have hidden talents and get training in everything from dealing with bullying to body image and self-confidence,” Slade added.

‘Social and emotional care that the children really need’

The Collaborative, whose mission is to “promote the development of a healthy and involved community supporting substance-free youth in a caring environment,” will use the money for its extended day program at the Flood Brook School in Londonderry and for summer programming.

Kali Harris directs those programs and says that not being able to run either one last year makes this grant a real boon.

“The grant is really going to be able to help us provide that child care and social and emotional care that the children really need,” says Harris, a health teacher at the school. “Our hope is to cover costs of child care for families who need it, to get healthy snacks, and provide enrichment programs.”

“We’re hoping for the transition back to a sense of normalcy — to at least be in person again,” Harris says. “This will help make sure we can operate safely and everyone has what they need.”

‘A real anchor’

Youth Services Executive Director Russell Bradbury-Carlin says the grant money “feels really supportive.” The nonprofit runs 18 programs that work with young people of all ages, mainly those ages 12 through 24, in areas such as youth development, workforce development, and restorative justice.

Bradbury-Carlin said the grant money will be used for Friends for Change, a Youth Services program based in Bellows Falls.

The grant will help the agency develop the after-school community program, expanding its hours, the number of youth who can participate, and staff.

The money will let Youth Services bring two part-time coordinators for summer and also hire more help.

“The goal is to give [youth] a summer program they will never forget,” says Bradbury-Carlin. “A fun summer and the ability to reconnect with peers.”

Activities will include hiking, working on art, swimming, and field trips the young people will choose themselves, such as camping and visiting state parks and museums.

Bradbury-Carlin says many of the youth served are “on the margins of the community — not necessarily successful in school, but not involved in the social justice system. A lot of have had trauma, not a lot of support, and generational poverty.”

He said many “had never experienced a summer camp or left the area on a school field trip. A lot of these youth really struggled during the pandemic, and Friends for Change was a real anchor.”

Making BEEC more accessible

BEEC says it is using its grant to support and expand its Nature Explorers Summer Day Camp, which offers campers nature explorations and discoveries, hands-on activities, games, free play, journaling, stories, craft projects, and song.

“We are excited to have our camps be more accessible and inclusive of the diverse needs of all children in the camp setting, through receiving funding to hire additional counselors, a special education specialist, and personal care assistants for interested and qualifying children, all without raising camp fees for families,” said Kristina Weeks, BEEC’s camp director, in a news release.

Expanding visual arts programming

The In-Sight Photography Project provides after-school photography classes and summer camps for ages 11–18 at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

All young people are welcome, regardless of their identity, art experience, or family’s financial situation. No one is turned away because they cannot afford to pay class fees, and no scholarship application process is required.

“This pandemic has been the defining event of so many young people’s lives,” Executive Director Victoria Heisler said in a news release. “We’ve seen firsthand how our participants have met the challenge of this past year through strength and resilience.”

“This summer, we’re so excited to be expanding our programming to safely include as many young people as possible and offering high-quality visual arts programming,” she said. “We can’t wait to get wildly creative in camps and classes.”

Classes include Intro to Analog (ages 11 to 18) and SK8 Photography (for those ages 13 to 18 with some photography experience), which teaches the art of using digital cameras to capture skateboarding and other action.

Week-long camps include Darkroom Magic (ages 13 to 18), Art in the Wild (13 to 18), Analog Adventures (13 to 18), Fun with Photo (11 to 13), and Nighttime Photography (13 to 18). Enrollment for the Shutterbugs: Nature Explorers camp is full.

Visit insightphotography.org for full descriptions and logistics for the classes and camps.

Building partnerships

The grants, funded by federal dollars secured by Sanders, were awarded to a variety of programs — summer camps, libraries, municipalities, teen centers, nonprofit social services organizations, and more — to expand the number of weeks and slots available and to increase affordability of and accessibility to summer programs.

The offerings will supplement school-based programs for which school districts received federal funds, and are also eligible for this work. It’s hoped the money will also lead to more partnership options for local school-based programs.

Sanders said in a news release that the grantees that will be receiving these funds for their summer programs “are key to ensuring our young people have the great summer they deserve.”

“By making their programs free or low-cost, addressing transportation needs, and finding opportunities for older students — like expanded employment options — these organizations are tackling the major barriers faced by so many working Vermont families during the summer months,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #617 (Wednesday, June 16, 2021). This story appeared on page A6.

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