As Vermont reopens, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports is paying attention to those it’s reopening for.
The organization announced this week that it had received a $75,000 “Summer Matters for All” grant to provide outdoor recreation opportunities this summer to young people with disabilities.
“We want any kid K-12 with a disability throughout Vermont to come and play with us whenever they want because it’s free,” VASS representative Kim Jackson said.
VASS is most famous for its winter activities, but has run summer programs since 1996 including canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, mountain biking and hiking.
“We do summer camps” Jackson said. “We do wellness camps. ... In the summers, there’s a lot of families that come here. It may be a family that has one person that has a disability, but they all want to go kayaking or they all want to go hiking.”
Jackson said the grant will cover up to 1,500 lessons and outings at no cost statewide. She said she did not want to compare to 2020’s numbers because the pandemic rendered it an outlier, but that in 2019 they did 840 outings or lessons — none for free. Programs will be offered in Rutland, Chittenden and Washington counties.
“The kids had a rough year for school,” Jackson said. “They need to be out and about and socializing with their friends. ... Our participants are a vulnerable population because of their disabilities so they were affected pretty hard.”
On top of that, the grant will cover an apprenticeship program for youths interested in becoming junior instructors for VASS.
“We have about 400 volunteers right now who are 18 and older,” Jackson said. “We’ve been looking towards trying to get younger kids involved. ... If they get involved at that age, we hope they’ll continue on and be volunteers with us when they turn 18.”
Cassie Willner, representative for Vermont Afterschool, a nonprofit working on the grant program, said there was a huge need for such services for youths with disabilities.
“Out of the grant applications, we’re really excited to have this chance, through Vermont Adaptive, to support youth in Vermont,” she said. “It’s a great program, and we’re glad to help.”
Kim Peters, Rutland’s recreation superintendent, said VASS is so effective that she rarely even needs to refer people to them because the population that needs their services knows how to find them. She said she expects to have some talks about using city facilities for the summer program.
“The Rec is there to support them in any way we can,” she said.