YMCA partnership is a win for Bennington


A common complaint in Bennington is that there's nothing for the kids to do in town. Far from a petty gripe, many believe it to be one of the root causes for drug abuse and crime. The good news is that the town plans to begin a partnership with Berkshire Family YMCA to give the local youth programs and services at the Bennington Recreation Center a boost.

Randy Kinnas, CEO of Berkshire YMCA, recently attended a Select Board meeting where he talked more about what the YMCA can offer Bennington.

For starters, it can offer financial assistance to those wanting to be involved with the town's summer camp programs. It can offer new programs and expand on the ones that already exist. Summer camps don't do much good if no one can afford them or if there's no interest, so this at least will be helpful.

The partnership is in its infancy right now, but there's a great deal of potential here. Among the things the YMCA offers that Bennington could certainly use are: Childcare services so adults with kids can use the rec center, camp scholarships for those who can't pay the fees, before and after school programs, tutoring, as well as activities for adults and seniors.

Concerns that the YMCA will be taking over the rec center, firing all the local staff, and raising our taxes are somewhat understandable, but misplaced. The only thing to fear in this situation would be the relationship not working out or the town not taking full advantage of it in a timely manner.

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Kinnas made it clear that the YMCA is looking to work with the town on developing the new partnership, not to take anything over. In fact, on March 21 YMCA reps will be back in Bennington to speak with the people about what kinds of things they'd like the group to bring here as well as talk over any questions or concerns they might have.

Times and locations for the meetings are as follows: Bennington Senior Center, 124 Pleasant St., 9:30 a.m., Bennington Recreational Center, 655 Gage St.,12 p.m., and the Department of Health/Community College of Vermont's Community Room, 324 Main St., 4:30 p.m. They're all slated to last an hour.

The only thing to complain about here is that it took so long to get the ball rolling. The town has known about its need for improved recreational programs since at least 2012 when the Vermont Council on Rural Development hosted its "community conversation" event. We'll give thanks to Betsy Rathbun-Gunn, of United Counseling Service, who was credited at Monday's board meeting with making the first call to the YMCA and getting all of this started. We'll also thank those who moved it along and anyone who keeps it going.

For Bennington to improve as a community, it needs the people who live in it to care about it and to believe they can help. Kinnas was right when he said a summer camp program is "...one of the most impactful relationships a kid can have during the summer." Kids learn to care about where they live and who their neighbors are and even if they move away, many return to volunteer their time and talents with making the place they grew up better.

Even if this new partnership does cost money, it'll be money well spent.


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