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Boys & Girls Club ready to reopen

Even in the COVID atmosphere there is a lot to be excited about. It’s everything they remember, and then some new stuff. It’s still a safe place to be. It’s still a fun place to be. But now there’s a lot more choice.
— Cookie Steponaitis

VERGENNES — After a summer of online programming, the Boys and Girls of Greater Vergennes is preparing to welcome its members back into its Armory Lane clubhouse.
With COVID-19 safety precautions and guidelines in place, of course, according to outgoing interim executive director Cookie Steponaitis.
More adults will be present at the club, and only 20 members at a time can attend under current state mandates, Steponaitis said. A club employee or volunteer will take members’ temperatures as they enter.
Members and their families will be required to sign up in advance for two 150-minute afterschool time slots a week, with a third slot possible depending on availability.
Members can sign up for “general club activities,” such as games, computer use, homework time or other typical club goings-on, or specific programs, a number of which are new.
Masks will also be required, and members will be divided into youth and teen cohorts, and further split into smaller groups of three or four apiece. Steponaitis said groups will rotate every half-hour through activities and rooms in the clubhouse to allow for quick sanitation of new, easy-clean furniture between rotations.
She acknowledged visits to the club will not be the same. Members won’t be able to just hang out in one room the entire time if they’re in the mood, or as readily choose their own paths.
“What’s different the kids will have to adjust to is that they won’t just flit back and forth between things,” Steponaitis said.
There will also be more offerings, Steponaitis said, while stressing the additions won’t change the Boys & Girls Club’s perennially safe and enjoyable atmosphere.
“Even in the COVID atmosphere there is a lot to be excited about,” she said. “It’s everything they remember, and then some new stuff. It’s still a safe place to be. It’s still a fun place to be. But now there’s a lot more choice.”
Outdoor programs will include fishing with instruction on Otter Creek, with those who attend all the sessions receiving fishing gear, a walking club, snowshoeing, line dancing, and more.
There will be back-up plans if the weather doesn’t cooperate, according to Steponaitis.
“We’re not going to make a kid stand out in the parking lot in the middle of a blizzard or rainstorm,” she said.
Indoor offerings will include arts and crafts; chess; sign language lessons; lots of music, including guitar, bass and drum lessons starting in October; and free SAT and ACT prep classes for area high school students, members or not.
Families, guardians and members can learn more — and meet the club’s new CEO, experienced youth worker and Shelburne resident Kathryn Hood Nelson — at an open house set from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 7, the evening before the club opens and a date that coincides with the opening of Vergennes-area schools. Look for an introduction to Nelson in the Independent in the near future.
The club will provide food daily to all members, even if they aren’t signed up for daily activities. All members may come after school and pick up a snack and meal, Steponaitis said, but those not signed up will not be allowed to come in further than the entryway.
Steponaitis’s last day in charge will be Sept. 3, and Nelson will take over on Sept. 7. But Steponaitis, a two-decade volunteer at the club, will probably still be around.
“I’ll go back to having a V on my chest as a volunteer,” she said “I like that. That’s my favorite letter.”

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