“A Place I Feel at Home.”

Having grown up in Vermont and participated in afterschool and summer programs in my community, I know the importance of having a fun and safe space to go afterschool and during the summer, and the impact these third spaces can have on a child’s life. As Vermont Afterschool’s summer communications intern, I’ve been able to visit a couple of summer programs making a difference in communities around Vermont, including recipients of the Room For Me and Afterschool & Summer Expanding Access Grants.

It was inspiring seeing how much the staff cared about all of the children, most of them having gone through the very same programs themselves. Walking into the building felt closer to entering a family gathering rather than an afterschool program.

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of working at one of these programs, as a counselor at the Governor’s Institute of Vermont’s (GIV) Entrepreneurship: Creativity and Innovation camp. GIV provides youth with the opportunity to live on a college campus and get real-life experience learning from experts in their chosen subject, including arts, activism, and environmental science. Founded on a philosophy of making these experiences accessible to all Vermont families, GIV has served and inspired over 12,000 youth. With help from Vermont Afterschool’s Afterschool & Summer Expanding Access Grant, GIV boosted their capacity by adding 93 additional slots with a sliding scale tuition model and increased outreach to underserved populations.

Throughout my week at GIV’s Entrepreneurship camp, I organized activities and saw firsthand what it takes to run a successful summer program. Students spent the week developing their own business plans, in teams of four, learning how to work together and present their hard work at the end of the week. The youth received first-class guidance and support from the Institute’s staff and were able to visit local businesses—including Generator and Hula—to talk with the founders and gain insight and advice on their budding entrepreneurial endeavors.

Almost all of the groups focused their business ideas on helping to combat the mental health crisis for youth. According to 2023 Vermont Youth Project survey findings, one in five Vermont youth report they “felt difficulties were piling up so high they could not overcome them,” and so it was inspiring to see the creativity and tenacity with which the youth set about addressing the mental health struggles they see and experience in their daily lives.

Summer camps provide youth with so many important resources and opportunities. For me, what makes the hard work planning and organizing the program worthwhile are the moments when a youth can feel seen and accepted; moments that bolster the protective factors in their lives and promote their mental health and well-being.

“My parents have always worked a lot, especially over the summer, and when I am at a camp, I’m not alone like I would be at home,” one youth said. “Growing up, camps always made me feel like there were people to take care of me and I wasn’t forgotten.”

Daniel, a fellow counselor, echoed this sentiment: “Growing up, summer camps were always a place I felt at home. Now, getting to provide kids with that place feels really special.”

Not only do these third-spaces give youth a place to be, they also give them a community to be part of.

“Even if you go months or years without seeing each other, when you do see everyone you are still best friends and have so much to talk about,” a second youth said.

At the end of the week, it was clear how much the youth had grown, having learned so much about the business world, how they can make a difference, and the importance of the community they’re surrounded by. 

I’m thankful for this glimpse into the Governor’s Institute’s amazing work, and the impact they and other third-space programs have on the lives of so many youth!

Beckett Pintair is an architecture and design major at Middlebury College and was Vermont Afterschool’s 2023 MiddWorks for Vermont Communications Intern. He enjoys spending time hiking, snowboarding, reading, working on various art projects. His officemate enjoyed the artwork he doodled while pondering his latest assignment.

Vermont Afterschool is thankful to Middlebury College for this internship opportunity and to Beckett for sharing his summer with us.

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