For the youth of Rutland County looking to find educational and positive opportunities for this summer, one of the best options may be learning to “box.”
The organizers of the “Out of the Box-es” project are planning to provide 1,000 or more boxes to families in the Rutland County area, which will include not only educational and fun activities but also instructions on how to convert the box into its own activity.
Kimberly Griffin, 4-H educator for Rutland and Bennington counties, said the project was part of a a group of nonprofits and educational agencies working together on the Vermont Youth Project, which was developed by the statewide nonprofit, Vermont Afterschool.
Griffin said the organizers realized that because of the state’s efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, area youth couldn’t count on school-provided programs. She said they were aware of some municipal programs but they were reduced from previous years in order to keep participants and staff safe.
Griffin said the organizers understood towns like Fair Haven and Castleton and groups like the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the Green Mountain Conservation Camp were not expected to offer camps during the summer.
As a result, the organizers were “expecting gaps,” Griffin said.
“Really, at one point, we were like, ‘OK, what and how do we provide something for the area youth to do this summer?’ because they’re left high and dry,” she said.
Members of the groups involved, which include the Mentor Connector, Project VISION, the Vermont Department of Health, 4-H, the local schools, Rutland Regional Medical Center and the United Way, came up with several ideas.
Griffin is leading the Out of the Box-es project. She described the activity boxes as being like “subscription boxes” that offer meals or collectibles. In this case, the five boxes will contain educational material.
The boxes are free and created to appeal to kids roughly from second to eighth grade, Griffin said.
Robert Bliss, assistant superintendent for the Rutland City Public Schools, said the goal of the collaboration whose work include the boxes formed to create programs to help local kids “become happier, healthier, more connected and less likely, as they get older, to engage in substances and mischief, for lack of any better term.”
Bliss said, “For me, this goes beyond education. It’s about engagement, connecting with your community and enrichment.”
On Tuesday, Griffin said organizers expected they would provide about 500 boxes for the first round and 1,000 or more for subsequent rounds. But on Wednesday, Griffin said about six hours after the link to sign up for Out of the Box-es went live, almost 500 families signed up.
The first box will be released June 25 and new boxes will be released every other week.
The first box is inspired by this month being National Dairy Month, and its contents are, Griffin said, “everything dairy.” The box will include instructions and some materials to make butter, paneer, which is an Indian soft cheese, and no-bake “cow flop” cookies.
The themes for the other boxes are arts and crafts, led by Wonderfeet Kids Museum and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; food, led by Vermont Farmers Food Center, the Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education, or SAGE, and Come Alive Outside; fun with science; and exploring nature, also led by the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Come Alive Outside and Wonderfeet.
Another partner was found while developing the project, Griffin pointed out. Organizers were concerned that some rural families might find it challenging to reach one of the distribution hubs such as, for instance, Rutland Free Library, Brandon Free Public Library and Fair Haven Concerned.
Recognizing there are “kiddos in isolation,” Griffin said organizers looked for other ways to get the boxes to families.
“We have had police departments raise their hands and say, ‘We will deliver boxes if that it what’s it’s going to take for these families to engage,’” she said.
Caprice Hover, executive director of the United Way of Rutland County, said the overall project was helping the nonprofit she leads develop more youth engagement.
“What’s exciting is that there’s a lot of energy and synergy involved in the Vermont Youth Project. There’s some out of the box thinking about how we can support youth especially during the COVID situation. It’s creating a lot of opportunities,” she said.
In two weeks, Hover said, she will be working with Cmdr. Matt Prouty, of the Rutland City Police Department and leader of Project VISION, to survey local youth about what they would like to see happen in their community.
While Griffin said Out of the Box-es was put together quickly in response to the unusual conditions this year, she said that now that the members of the various nonprofits have seen the benefit of this particular collaboration, they would “love to see it continue.”
Griffin said organizers are looking at the possibility of a sixth bonus box
Organizers have also created a Go Fund Me page to pay for what is estimated to be a $45,000 project.
“Honestly, to serve 1,000 kids five times for $45,000 is amazing,” Griffin said.
To sign up online, visit kidsvt.com/rutlandcounty.