The MINT wants local youth to have a “summer like no other.”
The makerspace, on Quality Lane in Rutland, recently launched a summer programming schedule aimed at fostering creativity and innovation in kids through hands-on experiences.
The programs were made possible with a $55,000 Summer Matters for All grant administered by South Burlington-based nonprofit Vermont Afterschool. The grant program is the result of nearly $4 million in federal funding allocated through the American Rescue Plan to support and increase access to programs designed to help reconnect and reengage youth in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The MINT — which stands for Make, Innovate, Network, Tinker — is a shared workshop space open to the community that features a wide variety of tools available to hobbyists, DIY enthusiasts, educators, students and entrepreneurs.
Executive Director Karen McCalla said the grant came at an opportune time, and has given the organization the ability to grow its programming.
Earlier this year, The MINT expanded its footprint, moving to a new 14,000-square-foot space within the building it previously inhabited. With that expansion, came the creation of The Boiler, a kid- and family-focused makerspace.
McCalla said the Summer Matters grant — as well as another grant from the Vermont Community Foundation — helped facilitate The Boiler by providing funds for materials and staff.
“The grant is really letting us stretch our wings and figure out what’s possible with kids and family in Rutland,” she said, noting that while the Summer Matters grant runs out in September, The MINT plans to keep The Boiler running into the future.
McCalla said the pandemic brought into focus how few opportunities there are for kids “to make stuff with their hands” — a problem which, she argues, has existed for some time.
She said while programs at Stafford Technical Center are geared toward students looking to pursue a particular career path, there are few opportunities for kids to simply explore or build things, noting that most high schools no longer have industrial arts or family and consumer sciences classes.
“There’s such a value with inventing, innovating, making for kids who don’t necessarily right now think of that as a career path,” she said. “So we really feel passionate about getting kids experience with tools.”
Operations Director Morgan Over said the summer programs are creating a family-friendly space that The MINT has lacked. She said she hopes they will create “a few more makers.”
“If I had had something along these lines when I was a little maker, I would have been thrilled,” she said.
McCalla said the programs are designed to provide an overview of what kids can do at The MINT.
On a tour of the newly expanded space, McCalla showed off the wide array of tools and resources MINT members have at their disposal, including 3-D printers, laser cutters, lathes, kilns, plasma cutters, a letterpress shop, a bicycle repair area, and jewelry and electronics labs.
“Our vision for this space is, eventually, we’ll have a lot of kids who know how to use the tools and equipment here, and then this space belongs to them.”
The summer programs, which run until mid-September, are a blend of tool- and technology-based activities that mirror what kids might find when exploring The MINT.
STEAM-Powered Saturdays is The MINT’s weekly program for kids ages 3 and up, running every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m.
Kids will get the opportunity to make DIY catapults, light-up T-shirts and penny-powered flashlights.
The Build It @ The Boiler program is designed for children ages 12 and older and runs from 4 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. Tuesday sessions feature structured activities and include dinner; Thursdays are used for open lab time.
An upcoming Built It workshop on June 29 will let kids build a rideable hovercraft. Another on July 27 will teach them how to make light-up letterpress cards.
Other workshops will focus on drawing fantasy maps, building candle holders and making vortex cannons.
Programs cost $10 per session, but McCalla noted there is also a discounted “COVID-impacted” rate of $5, as well as a free option. No proof of income is required.
Sessions are capped at 15 kids, though McCalla said some may be expanded if possible.
Over said she’s particularly excited about helping kids build the hovercraft, which she said will be made out of plywood, a plastic tarp and a battery-powered leaf-blower.
She’s also looking forward to working with kids to repair bicycles, which people will ultimately be able to take out on loan from Rutland Free Library.
“What we’re offering to (kids in) this area is enrichment in their summer education,” she said.
In addition to the in-house programs, McCalla said they will also take The MINT on the road with the Boiler Bus.
For various reasons, McCalla acknowledged that not all families are able to make it to The MINT, but she doesn’t think that should keep them from enjoying its programs.
The bus will make weekly appearances at all three Rutland Recreation and Parks Department camps, with activities for kids ages 5 and older. Planned activities include a robot rodeo, making paper circuits and cooking up s’mores with solar power.
McCalla said she is working to bring the bus to area libraries as well.
She added that other interested local organizations can still sign up for a visit sometime this summer, though Over noted that the schedule is filling up fast.
Visit rutlandmint.org/theboiler for more information or to register for The MINT’s summer programs.