Catamount Connections moves, refocuses

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BENNINGTON — Catamount Connections is on the move. A few hundred feet, that is.

The nonprofit parent- and child-focused organization has moved to rent-free space at Mission City Church at 416 Main St. from its prior location in the basement of the Mount Anthony Lodge on Main Street.

Organizers moved locations for a "multitude of reasons," including a desire for more street visibility and budget constraints, said Kayla Becker, the program manager.

"And we just don't have the budget to have our own center," she said. Catamount Connections rented space from the lodge.

"We could [get] really big, because we needed to," she said. "Now it's just stripping it down to essentials."

Mission City Church is also in downtown Bennington, just a few hundred feet from the Masonic Lodge, Becker said.

"We wanted a place that was located in downtown Bennington for those with accessibility barriers, that could remain no-cost to those wanting to join, and — importantly — had onsite childcare," Becker said. "Due to both financial constraints and timeline challenges, we started looking for a new space to offer our inside programs as the weather changes."

Catamount Connections began in May 2018 with a Promise Community Grant. With community input, about $30,000 of that $150,000 grant went to the splash pad, and about $120,000 was used to open Catamount Connections and fund its initial year of programming, Becker said.

The other big change, Becker said, is that the center will no longer have open hours.

"The big change is that we were operating in a drop-in location, similar to a library," she said. "Now, it's only through programs."

Those programs are: Cafe Craft & Conversation, the breastfeeding Milk & Mamas program, and Nurturing Moms postpartum support group, and playgroups. There are no changes to the hours and days the programs are offered.

The organization also offers a no-cost PlayGym the first Wednesday of the month from 10-11 a.m., and is also partnering to offer an after-work mommy and me yoga in Old Bennington and a weekend program at John G. McCullough Free Library, Becker said.

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The change in hours is mainly a function of the change in space, she said.

"We aren't just going to keep their doors open," she said of the church. "We don't have staffing to do that."

The church is donating the space to Catamount Connections.

Monday was the center's first Craft Cafe and Conversation in the new space; the move took place last month.

The Masonic Lodge space had multiple rooms, and was set up to resemble a house. At Mission City Church, the organization has more of a single meeting area, with separate child watch, Becker said.

But a lot of the furniture is the same, as the church was looking for furniture, "and we were looking to move it," she said.

Catamount Connections also has access to the church's cafe area for snacks and drinks, she said.

Organizers found out about the space through a connection, as one of the church's children's rooms workers, Bridgette Walden, is also a local mother and Catamount Connections' breastfeeding support group facilitator.

Becker then visited the space a couple of times.

"I just really liked the feel," she said. "It felt very welcoming and not overbearingly a church, because we aren't affiliated with any religious organization. And the fact that they had on-site childwatch that we could use was really, really important."

Catamount Connections is trying out the new arrangement through the end of the calendar year, Becker said. She said there are many different possibilities, but for right now, the organization is not looking "too far ahead."

"While our vision of an open-hours space for families to connect and find support remains, we are hopeful that a partnership will emerge soon to allow it to happen," she said. "And our move to Mission City will allow us in the meantime to offer this connection opportunity during the Cafe and Milk & Mamas programs each week."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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