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Bennington to contract with Berkshire YMCA


By Jim Therrien, as seen in the Berkshire Eagle:

Jacobs and Hurd said the impetus for the effort dates to the 2012 Vermont Council on Rural Development Community Conversation on future initiatives to improve the town, which involved a series of public meetings with council staff and state officials and later a report on the possibilities and priorities identified.

BENNINGTON, Vt. — The town will contract with the Berkshire Family YMCA to provide summer programming for Bennington youth and is considering "a broader partnership and the development of a more encompassing community center concept."

Select Board Chairman Thomas Jacobs, board member Jeannie Jenkins and Town Manager Stuart Hurd said recently that the proposed agreement will be presented to the public and the full board on Monday. The initiative grew from discussions among a working group interested in expanding recreational options in Bennington and YMCA officials.

"This is an exciting opportunity for our community," Jenkins said. "It is really very exciting."

The officials said Randy Kinnas, CEO of the Berkshire Family YMCA, which is based in Pittsfield and North Adams, will speak at the next board meeting on the scope of services the organization can provide and on ways it partners with communities and other organizations.

Jenkins said three other presentations by the YMCA and the working group are scheduled on March 21 in Bennington — at the Senior Center, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.; from noon to 1 p.m. at the Recreation Center, and from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Community Room of the Department of Public Health at the Community College of Vermont.

Kinnas said this week that discussions with town officials led to an agreement for the YMCA staff to conduct programs for youth this summer, such as the day camps normally offered by the town and based at the Recreation Center. He said the hope is that this will "introduce the Y and its programs to the community."

Kinnas added, "Our goal is to see what the community needs and what services it will embrace. We don't want to duplicate things."

Jacobs and Hurd said the impetus for the effort dates to the 2012 Vermont Council on Rural Development Community Conversation on future initiatives to improve the town, which involved a series of public meetings with council staff and state officials and later a report on the possibilities and priorities identified.

Expanding opportunities for youth and development of a comprehensive community center were listed as top priorities. It was during that process, the local officials said, that they learned the YMCA nationally is not expanding with new organizations but is encouraging the expansion of services from existing centers — such as those in North Adams and Pittsfield into surrounding area.

"We discovered a draft report from the community visit by the VCRD task force," Jenkins said. "What they identified in there was that we were in the catchment area of the Berkshire YMCA. So we contacted the Y and started talking to them."

After a recent meeting, she said, "We decided we also wanted a larger working group for both short-term and long-term opportunities available from working with the Y."

She said there was an effort to bring in entities that were already thinking about expanding recreational activities.

The working group members include Betsy Rathbun-Gunn, early childhood services director at United Counseling Service; Cathy Vogel, district director of the Vermont Department of Health; Laura Boudreau, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union curriculum director; James Trimarchi, director of strategic planning at Southwestern Vermont Health Care; Lorna Mattern, executive director at United Counseling Service; Jerry O'Connor, principal at Bennington Elementary School; Dan Monks, assistant Bennington town manager; Michael Keane, a Select Board member; Kinnas, Hurd, Jenkins and Jacobs.

Hurd said the preliminary agreement calls for the YMCA to provide staffing and run summer camps, including at the Recreation Center pool. He said the town "stands ready to subsidize program fees if that is essential."

The manager noted that the town should have funding available because it would not be hiring summer workers for those camps or other programs. Normally, the day camps consist of morning and afternoon sessions and run for two weeks, based at the Rec Center.

The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union also is a partner in the effort, Hurd said, and programming might be developed to fill a void when renovation energy-related construction projects close Bennington elementary schools to regular summer programming this summer.

In the future, agreements might be considered to have the YMCA run programs at other facilities, parks and playgrounds in Bennington, as well as help develop plans for an outdoor pool, an ice rink or other new facilities, the officials said.

"One of the advantages of partnering with the Y," Jenkins said, "is they have a lot of experience in developing programming, and we are hoping that what we are going to see is a really enhanced summer program that will have real meat to it and be more attractive to more kids in the community."

She added, "They have consultants on programming. We have lots of assets in this town, lots of parks, buildings. The question is how we can build on what we have. First, we want to involved the community about how that could happen."

Kinnas the YMCA is interested in learning during the March 21 sessions about "people's concerns, their hopes and dreams, to really look at that long term."

Jacobs said the agreement and any future proposals will be contingent upon Select Board approval. He said that at this time it would be more in the form of a vendor/service provider agreement with the organization.

Long-term, he said, "We're hoping to start thinking about a community center rather than a recreation center."

Jacobs added that the officials are not trying to compete with local fitness centers, child care centers or other local businesses but to fill gaps in the Bennington area.

"One of the things about a Y is they are very community oriented and work with [other] organizations," Jenkins said.

She noted that some YMCAs also have extensive programs for seniors and adults and provide comprehensive child care, among other services.

Anyone interested in offering suggestions to the working group on recreational programs can email those to, Jenkins said.

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and @BB_therrien on Twitter.