In Middlebury, Robison to lead teen center
MIDDLEBURY — Cicilia Robison has for the past year served the Addison Central Teens (ACT) center and its programming as an AmeriCorps member. On Aug. 1, she’ll become the executive director of that nonprofit organization, which offers safe, supervised after-school and summertime activities for Middlebury-area teens at 77 Mary Hogan Drive.
Robison, a recent Middlebury College graduate, succeeds former ACT Executive Director Zoe Kaslow, who stepped down this past winter in order to take a job with Planned Parenthood. Devon Karpak agreed to step in as interim leader while the ACT board conducted an extensive search for a permanent replacement.
ACT board President Al Zaccor said Robison was one of more than a dozen people who applied for the job, which has seen quite a bit of turnover of late. Kaslow had served less than a year in the position after succeeding then-director Colby Benjamin in February of 2018. Benjamin left to become property manager for the Addison County Community Trust, a local affordable housing agency.
The ACT board interviewed five leading candidates for the post before offering it to Robison last month. Zaccor said Robison stood out for her dedication, experience and genuine love for the job.
“It’s like we had a year-long interview with her,” Zaccor said.
“She really demonstrated a love for the job, the kids and the mission of the organization.”
Robison, a member of the Middlebury College class of 2018, originally hails from Montana. She majored in sociology and gender sexuality/feminine studies at Middlebury.
Her learning experience wasn’t confined to the college campus. She provided administrative support to the United Way of Addison County for two years as a paid intern while a freshman and sophomore. In addition to earning a little extra money, the experience gave Robison a firsthand view of the county’s social services network and the economic challenges faced by area low-income families.
“I fell in love with the community,” Robison said. “I really appreciated that opportunity to get off campus and work with a community that so clearly supports the college in a lot of ways… ”
She spent much of her junior and senior years working in the college’s Student Health and Wellness Office, helping with publicity and scheduling special events — including for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Robison also organized “Consent Fest,” a campus offering for students guidance in preventing assaults.
Upon graduation, Robison signed on with AmeriCorps and was assigned to ACT to work with local teens. Her educational background, work experience and proximate age to the population she was serving, made her a good fit. But it seemed like an unlikely pairing only a few years ago.
“Before I got in this job, I thought I was going to go into public health or social work, maybe a combination of the two,” Robison said. She took the AmeriCorps position at ACT thinking it would be a one-year stint before moving on to the next phase of her career.
But she’s committed to a longer stay in the Middlebury area now that she’s secured the directorship of ACT.
“I want to provide this place with more structure,” Robison said of her main priority.
Another goal: Forging closer ties with ACT’s stakeholders, which include parents, Middlebury College, local nonprofits, Addison Central communities, and, above all, the children who make the Middlebury teen center an after-school stop. With that in mind, Robison wants to build a stronger teen council to give the center’s users more of a say in offerings.
Robison is pleased that teens see the center as a place to have fun and/or do homework, but she also wants the facility to become a place were kids get skills to prepare them for adulthood.
“I’d like to bring in more developmental workshops,” she said, noting ACT already offers a financial literacy course that helps teens learn household budgeting.
Robison wants programming at the center to be inclusive and compassionate. She has, during the past year, advanced offerings for LGTBQ individuals as well as for those needing empathy and guidance through the at-times complicated teen years.
“I can remember what it was like and validate what they are feeling,” said Robison, who’s able to credibly impart the message that “(teen years) are hard, you can do it, and it will get better.”
Addison Central Teens is run on a tight budget. Robison is one of only two full-time employees. And that’s why she’s very appreciative the support she gets from volunteers and Middlebury College interns. Those college student interns are particularly adept at relating to the teens they are serving. As a result, mentorships and friendships are born.
Zaccor believes Robison is on the right track, and he praised Karpak for helping lead the teen center while the search for a new director unfolded. It’s actually the second time that Karpak has provided critical interim leadership for the organization.
“It has been an honor to serve the young adults of Addison County over the last two years in many different roles at the teen center,” Karpak said through an email. “ACT is a special place that allows for people to come as they are, to grow together in community and to ultimately work on finding their way to a better tomorrow. The organization is in a good place and is in capable hands with the appointment of Cicilia Robison as executive director.”
Robison said she wished she’d had access to a service like ACT when she was in high school. Now she’ll have a chance to help mold such an organization that’s already a pretty neat place for kids of many backgrounds and income levels.
“It’s a place with unconditional positive regard — there are no bad kids, only bad actions,” she said. “Even if we have a bad interaction with a kid one day, we’re still happy to see them the next day. It’s a place where kids know that someone is always going to care for them.”
In other ACT news, the organization will soon become an independent 501-C3. Addison Central Teens has, until now, been under the nonprofit arm of the Parent-Child Center of Addison County. Being an independent nonprofit will help ACT in its fundraising efforts, according to Zaccor, who thanked the Parent-Child Center for its considerable support over the past decade.
More info about ACT and its teen center can be found at middteens.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].