Youth Services Expands Access to Summer Camp

Friends For Change students at camp. Photo provided

BELLOWS FALLS, Vermont – Friends for Change, an after-school program in Bellows Falls, Vermont, run by Youth Services, expanded its summer camp, piloted in 2021, engaging an average of 30 youth per week between late June and mid-August.

It was a seven-week free, play-based, restorative, trauma-informed day camp for young people aged 11-20. Using the Compass School campus as a base, the thirty young people were able to try new things ranging from kayaking to community reciprocity and restorative practices. According to Friends for Change founder and co-director Hailee Galandak-Cochran, campers focused on how they could give back to outdoor spaces in the community, such as cleaning up trash in Cold River, where they regularly bathed in weather. hot.

Galandak-Cochran explained that all young people are welcome, but the programming was specifically created for people who have experienced trauma associated with poverty, discrimination, and experiences of foster care or homelessness. family instability.

A range of activities were offered, including many excursions to local lakes, rivers and hiking sites, as well as team-building games and art.

“Like its after-school counterpart, the Friends For Change summer program is designed for and by young people with stories of resilience,” Galandak-Cochran described. “Friends for Change is about providing the scaffolding and skill-building opportunities to create real system change.”

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary of building community, Youth Services is proud to support innovation and be a catalyst for change, according to its Executive Director Russell Bradbury-Carlin.

Supportive adults help youth lead restorative circles of community building, affectionately called “deep circles” because of the nature of the discussions, a feature of the group that was evident in the interactions during camp.

“Trauma healing happens through peer support, as young people learn self-compassion, empathy and the power of their stories,” Galandak-Cochran said. As one youth noted, “Friends For Change is about accepting people. We can show ourselves as we are without being judged.

Friends for change teens. Photo provided

At camp, youth practice conflict resolution and peer support. Meghan Licciardi, the other co-director of Friends for Change, described how through activities like deep circles, young people have become more connected to peers and positive adults in the community. “Participants report an increase in confidence, leadership, sense of belonging, community engagement, and lower substance use,” Licciardi said.

In conjunction with Greater Falls Connections, the Youth Services summer camp received federal funding secured by Senator Bernie Sanders through the Afterschool & Summer Expanding Access Grant program, administered by Vermont AfterSchool, a nonprofit organization in statewide. Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center and the Vermont Children’s Trust Fund are all helping to make this year’s program possible.

In addition to covering activities, travel and entrance fees, Friends For Change was able to have four full-time adult staff and a part-time youth camp leader to help run the community services program. youth.

As stated in the grant, the goal of the funding is to address the shortcomings of Vermont’s current summer and afterschool system by addressing affordability, availability, promoting sustainability, and piloting innovative approaches.

With summer camp now over, youth and adult staff are already looking forward to trying new innovations at their Friends for Change after-school program which will restart in early September in the Greater Bellows Falls area.

For more information, email [email protected] or call Friends for Change at 802-689-9663.

Comments are closed.