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John Shannahan fills “swag bags” for students, with volunteer Ellen Havlak. (Elizabeth Conkey)
John Shannahan fills “swag bags” for students, with volunteer Ellen Havlak. (Elizabeth Conkey)
John Shannahan fills “swag bags” for students, with volunteer Ellen Havlak. (Elizabeth Conkey)

ELIZABETH A. CONKEY

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- As part of a larger cooperative effort between the Bennington Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Bennington, Better Bennington Corporation, and local colleges to welcome students into Bennington's downtown, John Shannahan, executive director of the BBC, along with the help of numerous volunteers, worked throughout the day Wednesday to fill student "swag bags" to be handed out to local incoming freshman.

Each of the 450 bags, all donated by Bennington Potters, is filled with 15-20 gifts donated by downtown merchants including pens, fortune cookies, tissues, stickers, and coupons for the students to enjoy.

According to Shannahan, this "Welcome Back" initiative was launched two years ago and has grown to cater to students from all five of the area's colleges, Southern Vermont College, Bennington College, the Community College of Vermont, Vermont Technical College, and Johnson State College.

Shannahan said that although Bennington is not a college town, it is in fact a "town of colleges," that can and will thrive with support from the new students.

"The downtown merchants are excited to welcome the students and the students love checking out the shops in the area," Shannahan said. "Overall, we think it's a great program that helps to create a bond between incoming freshmen and the community they'll be living in for the next four years.


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With the exception of Bennington College, all of the swag bags were handed out to area freshmen by Shannahan and a handful of volunteers Wednesday.

Today, Michael Harrington, Bennington's economic and community development director, will deliver the remaining bags to students at Bennington College.

Shannahan noted that SVC students will make their way to the downtown area Tuesday night for the annual "Progressive Dinner," during which time downtown restaurants including Ramunto's Pizza, Lil' Britain, and Crazy Russian Girls Bakery will offer complimentary dishes for students to enjoy.

In addition to the swag bags, members of the BBC, town and chamber have also identified downtown businesses willing to grant regular college student discounts throughout the year.

According to Shannahan, each participating business will display a window decal, indicating their participation.

For more information regarding the town's efforts to welcome new students to Bennington's downtown, contact Harrington at 802-442-1037 or Shannahan at 802-442-5758.

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.