Grow Bennington raises $6,000 for downtown projects

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BENNINGTON — Four Chimneys Inn on Tuesday evening hosted a garden party and concert to raise money for the Grow Bennington Initiative.

In total, through ticket sales, donations, and a raffle, the event raised $6,291 for the initiative's ongoing projects, more than doubling the goal for the by-invitation event. Lynn Green, the owner of the inn and chair of the initiative's task force, said that many who were not able to attend send checks to show their support. About 140 people attended the fundraiser.

"It was amazing," Green said. "I felt like there was a broad range of people who turned out — it was really nice."

Music was provided by Maria Elena Little, whose newest EP, "Mind Space," will be available in August. Little, 17, has lived all over the world, but spent many summers visiting her family in Bennington. Little's first single, "Little Light," was released on May 20 of last year, and was featured in the online entertainment blog Sommagazine.com. Alongside her singles, "White Lies" and "Control," the song has played on radio FM 100 the Radius in Tel Aviv, Israel and are featured on some Spotify playlists.

The Grow Bennington Initiative is the group responsible for raising the funds to hang strings of lights on trees and streetlight banners in downtown Bennington. The group is currently working on fundraising for several other projects to improve the downtown, including bringing a splash pad and other amenities at Merchant's Park on North Street, installing up-lighting underneath trees downtown, and creating way-finding signs that will point visitors to bathrooms, parking, bike racks, and more.

The initiative began as a group of residents collecting ideas about how to improve the downtown, and in about a year has morphed into a collaboration between businesses, individuals, the town's Community Development Office and the Bennington Downtown Alliance, formerly known as the Better Bennington Corporation.

"The era of Amazon Prime is requiring that communities fundamentally change the way they view their downtowns," said Green. "We all benefit from a thriving downtown. With The Grow Bennington Initiative, we believe we all can contribute."

The splash pad project, which is being called "Merchant's Park Re-Imagined," is a partnership between Grow Bennington, Catamount Connections, the Bennington Downtown Alliance, and the Town of Bennington. Green said that the sprinklers for the splash pad will be installed by the end of the year, thanks to a $30,000 grant received by Catamount Connections. Architect Jeff Goldstone donated the preliminary site plan, and engineer Jason Dolmetsch donated the initial survey. If fundraising goes well, she said the park could be finished by next spring.

To help raise money for the splash pad, Kayla Becker of Catamount Connections recently created an online fundraiser through CauseVox.com, which can be found at benningtonsplash.causevox.com. In a short amount of time, that campaign has already raised over $1,000 toward the $50,000 goal.

For the up-lighting, Home Depot store manager Jameson Dionne has pledged about $2,000 in equipment to make the project possible, and Green said the hope is to have the lighting installed sometime this month.

The way-finding signs are still in the works, and Green said there hasn't yet been a firm date set for when they will be put out.

To learn more about Little and listen to samples of her music, visit her website at www.mariaelenalittle.com. Her music is also available on Spotify, Apple Music, and iTunes among others.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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