Southern Vermont organizations share $1M for youth programs

By Bob Audette, Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO — More than $1 million is coming to after-school and summer programs in Southern Vermont through the federally funded Expanding Access Grant program.

The grants, funded by dollars secured by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and coordinated with Vermont Afterschool, Gov. Phil Scott’s office and the Vermont Agency of Education, were awarded to a variety of programs, including summer camps, libraries, municipalities, teen centers, nonprofit social services organizations and more, to expand the number of weeks and slots, as well as to increase affordability and accessibility of summer and after-school programs.

In Windham County, Beaver Brook Children’s School in Wilmington will receive $198,000, Youth Services in Brattleboro will get $197,000, and the Boys and Girls Club of Brattleboro will receive $100,000.

“Our funds will be used to operate a high-quality, free summer program for Vermont residents in July and August 2022 and 2023 at the Old School Community Center, and to expand after-school programs for young children at Twin Valley Elementary and Halifax in partnership with the Wings Community Programs during the 2022-2023 school year,” said Julie Koehler, president of Beaver Brook. “These funds were critical to our mission of bringing affordable, accessible, high-quality programs for young children to Southern Vermont.”

Koehler, who said Beaver Brook was founded in 2021, said its programs are also funded with other government and nonprofit grants as well as private donations.

In Bennington County, the Bennington Intergenerational Arts & Wellness Camps & Afterschool Collaborative will get $199,054.

At Patch of Diamonds in Dummerston, which received $25,000, co-founder Hildreth Grace Rinehart said the grant will help support a low-cost summer horsemanship camp, Project Peace, for youth ages 7 to 14.

Summer camp time includes partnership training on the ground with a herd of three horses, team-building activities, rhythm and theater games, music, art and the start of a Children’s Peaceful Garden, she said.

“Our mission at the Patch of Diamonds is to promote well-being in the world for now and the future, through collaboration with like-minded people in the research and development of natural education, wellness ecologies and natural horsemanship. Sharing skills of peaceful partnership with horses and the creation of a Children’s Peaceful Garden, together with a strong arts component and whole person learning are fun ways to find deeper peace and understanding in how we engage with ourselves, each other and the environment.”

Prior to receiving the grant, said Rinehart, a Patch of Diamonds was primarily volunteer-based.

“Now we can add more quality staff to help take our programs to the next level and make more weeks of camp available this summer and next. With grant funds, we can also provide incentives to local youth who may thrive in mentoring and leadership roles given the right opportunities.”

Other recipients include the Rockingham Free Public Library at $26,700; the Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro at $50,000; the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum in Marlboro at $52,000; the Vermont Wilderness School in Brattleboro at $86,000; and the Wilmington Recreation Commission at $95,000.

A total of $4.23 million was awarded to 39 programs in 11 Vermont counties.

Building off the successful 2021 Summer Matters grant initiative and the progress Vermont has made toward offering universal after-school and summer programs, the Expanding Access Grants are expected to continue to reduce gaps in Vermont’s current summer and after-school system by addressing affordability, increasing availability, building long-lasting partnerships to promote sustainability and piloting innovative approaches, states a news release announcing the awards.