New director takes charge of Middlebury teen center

MIDDLEBURY — Zoe Kaslow made some wonderful contacts at Middlebury College during her four years there as a student and as a leader of the institution’s activities board.
Kaslow, 26, now wants to put those contacts to good use to boost programming for local youth at Addison Central Teens (ACT), an organization she has been leading since Feb. 1.
ACT operates a teen center at 77 Mary Hogan Drive in which Middlebury-area teens can hang out and sample safe, supervised after-school programs. The organization runs a summer camp, special events, and has forged some strong partnerships with Middlebury Union High School, the Patricia Hannaford Career Center, Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department and Middlebury Indoor Tennis, among others.
“I feel really fortunate to be able to connect with so many people here in Addison County,” said Kaslow, who takes over the executive director’s position from Colby Benjamin. Benjamin resigned last fall to become property manager for the Addison County Community Trust.
“I’m really invested in being here,” she added. “I’d like to increase the reach of the teen center.”
Kaslow is not the only new face on the ACT team. Angus Barstow was recently hired as the nonprofit’s new program director, replacing Erin Morrison.
Though Kaslow is herself only around a decade removed from the age of some of her clients, she has a wealth of experience serving and networking with other young folks.
It began with her role as a student leader of the Middlebury College Activities Board, a campus organization that organized diversions and special events for the student body. It’s a role that called for her to interact with her peers to learn their entertainment preferences and translate them into programming.
Kaslow helped bring concerts, winter carnival, speakers, trivia nights and other entertainment amenities to the college.
“It’s the largest student organization on campus, in the sense that it has the largest budget,” Kaslow said.
After graduating from Middlebury in 2015 with a degree in psychology and education studies, Kaslow traveled across the county to Portland, Ore. There, she spent two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer assigned to the “College Possible” organization. College Possible helps low-income students get into college and stay there, through an intensive curriculum of coaching and support.
College Possible assigned Kaslow to help 36 students. She coached them regularly through their junior and senior years at Portland’s Madison High School. All of her protégés were from low-income households. Most were people of color and the first members of their respective families to go to college.
“We worked through every step of the college (preparatory) process,” Kaslow said.
But her interaction went beyond that. For example, she helped one of her students negotiate the insurance and medical systems and get eyeglasses so she could study properly.
“I really worked with the ‘whole’ student, not just them as a college going student,” Kaslow said.
With her AmeriCorps assignment drawing to a close in 2017, Kaslow and her then-fiancé, Nial Rele, started planning the next chapter in their lives. They knew they wanted to return to the Green Mountain State.
Rele secured a job as a senior assistant director of admissions at Middlebury College, which is also his alma mater. Kaslow got some temporary work at the college’s Center for Community Engagement. She continued to cast about for an Addison County job.
The couple got married and have just bought a house in Vergennes. So they are both clearly invested long-term in Addison County.
“I knew that long-term I wanted to be more rooted in the community than just at the college,” Kaslow said.
A college friend told her about the ACT vacancy. She immediately applied.
“I was really excited, because the role was going to combine both direct service with creative vision; and there was the management aspect of it as well,” Kaslow said of her attraction to the job.
Al Zaccor, president of the ACT board, said Kaslow was one of around a dozen applicants for the position. She was one of four finalists the board interviewed. Kaslow became the unanimous choice.
“She had the right combination of youthful energy, enthusiasm and experience,” Zaccor said. “She seemed to be someone with significant experience working with kids, and she had a vision for growing the organization.”
Kaslow is only a month into her tenure, but is quickly learning the ropes. She’s been meeting the young teen center visitors and key players within the organizations that serve Addison County teens.
Kaslow is keen on bringing college resources and personnel into the teen center fold for what she believes could be a series of win-win collaborations. College students interested in pursing careers in education could share their diverse backgrounds and talents with local teens. With that in mind, Kaslow is planning an April workshop through which college students will show teens how to prepare some international meals.
Her other ideas for “pop-up” workshops and activities at the teen center include Bollywood dancing, Quiddich, athletics, the arts, and discussion groups.
“I’d like to revamp some of the programming and bring it up to its full potential,” Kaslow said.
“I hope that within time, 85 percent of (Addison Central) teens will feel there are opportunities for them at the teen center.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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