BENNINGTON — A North Bennington after-school and summer camp program has been awarded nearly $200,000 in grant funding for programming this summer, next summer and the upcoming school year.
The North Bennington Intergenerational Arts & Wellness Camps & Afterschool Collaborative at Sage Street Mill was one of 39 programs awarded a total of $4.23 million. The grant program, building off the 2021 Summer Matters initiative, uses state and federal funds and is administered by Vermont Afterschool Inc., a nonprofit focused on after-school programs and summer learning.
Patricia Pedreira, the camp’s program director, said the funds will help expand the number of weekly slots to 20 from 13 and provide more opportunities for children and mentors this summer, during the 2022 and 2023 school year and next summer, too.
“I’m so thrilled,” Pedreira said. “We never had this kind of sustained funding to allow us to sustain and grow this program.”
Sage Street Mill is working with social service agencies to provide access to children whose families might not have otherwise been able to afford a multiweek summer camp program.
Sage Street Mill already promotes an environment where diversity is welcome; it’s a culturally diverse business managed by people of color, and “it’s safe to be yourself here,” Pedreira said.
The dollars are also helping facilitate an intergenerational project with Meals on Wheels of Bennington County: Seniors will be coming to the camp to build and tend to raised garden beds and take part in arts programming.
Last and not least, the funds will help the program retain and mentor employees — a workforce training initiative Pedreira hopes will help convince young adults to remain in Bennington County and pursue careers here.
“It’s important to me to mentor and train and strengthen the infrastructure so we can have opportunities for kids,” she said.
The grants were announced jointly Thursday by Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Afterschool Vermont.
Most of the programs are also increasing inclusivity for all youth by ensuring those from low-income backgrounds, youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, English language learners, youth with disabilities and/or special needs, migratory youth, rural youth, youth in foster care and youth experiencing homelessness are well-represented, the announcement said.
“I’m encouraged by the outpouring of interest from programs who want to serve more youth and families in their communities,” Scott said in the announcement. “Ensuring all Vermont youth have access to engaging after-school and summer programs is a top priority, and we’ll continue our work moving this forward.”
The grants, funded by federal dollars that Sanders secured, were awarded to a variety of programs, including summer camps, libraries, municipalities, teen centers and nonprofit social services organizations. The funds are being used to expand the number of weeks and slots and make them more affordable and accessible.
“After more than two years of this terrible pandemic, it is no secret that young people in particular have faced struggles that we are only beginning to understand,” Sanders said. “Now more than ever, young Vermonters need and deserve to have summer opportunities that are both fun and enriching.”
Sanders said it was good news that the state is building off the progress made by the program last year.
“By making their programs free or low-cost, addressing transportation needs and finding opportunities for older students — like expanded employment options — these grantees are tackling the major barriers faced by so many working Vermont families during the summer months,” Sanders said. “I thank each and every one of the people who have worked to make today possible and look forward to seeing all you are able to do this summer.”
Nicole Miller, the interim director of Vermont Afterschool, said after-school and summer programs play a critical role for the state’s children, “creating opportunities for them to engage, connect, learn and grow.
“We have no doubt that the programs awarded grant funds will make a strong impact on the lives of Vermont’s children and youth,” Miller said.