BENNINGTON — For over a decade, kids between 11 and 15 years old have been faced with a variety of challenges, fun activities and educational opportunities at the New Experiences Camp.

Originally started by the Vermont National Guard, the program is now spearheaded by the Bennington Police Department, Bennington Rescue Squad, Bennington County Sheriff's Department, Bennington Fire Department and the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center (CDC). It allows local youth to experience new, real-life situations hands-on.

On Monday, about two dozen kids spent the day at CDC. In the auto shop, the instructor compared the technology and mechanics of old and new cars. In the culinary arts kitchen, kids made pasta and a pesto sauce from scratch with teacher Jamie-Lynn Schmidt. At the building trades station, large bird houses were made by measuring and cutting wood, and then were nailed into place. And outside, participants learned how to cut wood with a chainsaw and how to operate a digging machine.

Mike Lawler, CDC superintendent and director, said the camp shows kids what opportunities there are in high school.

"I know it's working," he said. "A few raised their hands this morning when I asked if they're taking classes next year. It pays to have them in this program. The regular program instructors teach the kids."


The CDC provides transportation for the camp and officially partnered with the program last year.

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said this is the first year they've had camp leaders. The committee sat down to choose kids who've attended camp the longest to be leaders of the new participants. His son, Benjamin, and daughter, Catherine, are two of the five leaders.

"It lets them see a structured chain of command," Doucette said. "If the kids have an issue, they bring it to their group leader who will bring it to one of the officers and if it doesn't get solved, then it comes to me."

Benjamin Doucette said his favorite camp days were always going to the fire department, learning about firearm safety with the police department, and white water rafting.

"I've done the camp for about seven or eight years," he said. "Chief asked me to help and I said 'yes, I would love to help.' I always looked up to the older kids. It's fun to work with these kids."

On Tuesday morning, campers practiced texting and driving to prove the dangers of it. Chief Doucette said they ran over cones and went off the path.

New Experience Camp youth leaders take a break up on a fire truck at the Bennington Fire Department on Tuesday during a public safety-themed day.
New Experience Camp youth leaders take a break up on a fire truck at the Bennington Fire Department on Tuesday during a public safety-themed day. (Makayla McGeeney Bennington Banner)

In the afternoon, campers learned about fire trucks, how to arrest someone, and what happens when someone calls the ambulance.

A LifeNet helicopter that came from Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y., also made an appearance. A car crash simulation was conducted and emergency personnel were dispatched. Drugs, alcohol and bullying awareness were also covered.

"It's a vital component to public safety and we're excited to be here," Bennington Rescue Squad Executive Director Forest Weyen told the Banner on Tuesday. "We're more than just an ambulance now. We do advanced level care. The kids have a lot of enthusiasm and questions. It's good to see them touching things and being hands-on. It also helps their comfort level with public safety providers."

Campers on Wednesday will complete a full ropes course at Ramblewild in Lanesborough, Mass. On Thursday, they'll learn how to shoot a variety of guns safely at Hale Mountain Fish and Game Club in Shaftsbury. They'll end the week on Friday with a white water rafting trip at Crab Apple Whitewater in Charlemont, Mass.

— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.