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$650K in grants will back kids’ programs

ADDISON COUNTY — Four Addison County programs will net $650,000 in federal grants to give more children access to summer and afterschool programs during the next two summers and the 2022-2023 academic year.

The Middlebury Community Music Center, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, the Willowell Foundation Inc. and the Vermont Folklife Center are among 39 programs statewide that will share in $4.23 million through the Afterschool & Summer Expanding Access Grant program.

Music center Executive Director Sadie Brightman was thrilled when grantors announced the funding last week.

“Our core mission is to increase the number of people in our area who are engaging with music, learning about music, and feeling the joy and fulfillment from making music a part of their everyday lives,” Brightman told the Independent. “The meaning and impact behind our efforts feels especially critical now, when young people and families are shouldering many challenges brought about by the pandemic.”

The awards were announced May 19 by Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Vermont Afterschool Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to “strengthening programs, building partnerships, and transforming communities so that all Vermont youth are active, engaged, connected, and heard,” according to its mission statement.

The grants were awarded to a variety of programs, including summer camps, libraries, municipalities, teen centers and nonprofit social services organizations. They’re intended to reduce gaps in Vermont’s current summer and afterschool system by addressing affordability, increasing availability, building long-lasting partnerships to promote sustainability and piloting innovative approaches, according to Vermont Afterschool officials.

“Vermont’s afterschool and summer programs play a critical role in the well-being of Vermont’s children and youth, creating opportunities for them to engage, connect, learn and grow,” Nicole Miller, interim Director of Vermont Afterschool, stated in a press release. “These programs offer not only a lifeline for working families and caregivers on whom Vermont’s business and economy rely, but also to children and youth, who gain additional supports to emerge from the pandemic strong, resilient and hopeful. We have no doubt that the programs awarded grant funds will make a strong impact on the lives of Vermont’s children and youth.”

Here are the grant recipients in Addison County, and the amount of money each will receive to better serve local children:

  • Middlebury Community Music Center ($190K)

Based at 6 Main St. in Middlebury, the music center is “dedicated to providing life-changing experiences that transform individuals and unite our community through the art and practice of making music,” according to its website. The grant money will specifically be used reduce tuition barriers, expand outreach to underserved communities, offer additional weeks of camp and create a new afterschool program that will run during the 2022- ’23 school year.

Brightman is pleased the Expanding Access grant will allow the center to offer its summer camps tuition-free for the second year in a row. Expanded transportation, nutrition and staffing will also be possible.

“We hope this will benefit returning and new families, opening up the possibility for a musical experience for kids that we hope will continue long into the future,” Brightman said.

  • The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes ($70K)

Based at 20 Armory Lane, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes will use the new resources to provide tuition-free educational and enrichment programs for youth in grades 4-12, taking place over seven weeks in the summer as well as after school. The funds will increase the number of program slots, finance necessary supplies for program success, and extend program hours. Adding more program slots will allow the club to reach more youth and teens and give them an opportunity to reconnect with peers and mentors. Participants will also be guaranteed a free meal and access to social-emotional wellness programs, physical and healthy activities, and academic assistance.

  • The Willowell Foundation ($200K)

The Willowell Foundation is looking to expand its “hands-on, place-based, and inclusive curriculum” by hiring additional staff and increasing the number of programs. This grant will allow the nonprofit to open 30-50 more camp slots to youth of all ages and backgrounds, while meeting families’ childcare needs at an affordable rate. Anybody requesting a scholarship will have the ability to attend programs free of charge or at a minimal cost, according to Willowell officials. The grant will also allow Willowell to create a new five-day-a-week afterschool program in Addison County, in partnership with the Mount Abraham Unified School District’s Expanding Learning Program.

  • Vermont Folklife Center ($191K)

The VFC in Middlebury will use the funds to expand traditional, arts-focused programming for youth from refugee and underserved backgrounds currently residing in Chittenden and Windham counties.

“This grant will allow the Folklife Center to expand youth programming aimed at helping New American communities pass down their traditions to new generations,” VFC Executive Directors Kate Haughey told the Independent.

Specifically, it will allow VFC to create 120 new program slots and offer programming free of charge or on a sliding scale for all participants. Participants will gain access to free opportunities to learn traditional arts, speak native languages, learn from elders, and engage in healthy afterschool and summer activities in a safe environment. The added resources will fund instructors, studio space, traditional instruments and clothing, as well as healthy and culturally appropriate snacks.

“We are thrilled that Vermont Afterschool recognizes the value of the VFC’s work helping Vermonters share their expressions of tradition, innovation and culture with youth,” Haughey said.

The Expanding Access Grant process was highly competitive this year, with 144 proposals submitted totaling $14.1 million in requests. Overall, the grant funding will lead to 389 new weeks of summer and afterschool programming, with 30 programs addressing affordability and 21 programs offering programming in underserved areas of the state.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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The Addison Independent will be closed on Monday, July 4th. The newspaper will be published on Thursday, as usual.