Select Board supports Berkshire Y's efforts in Bennington
BENNINGTON — Select Board members responded positively on Monday to an assessment of current goals and ongoing work at the Bennington Recreation Center, nearly a third of the way through a one-year management agreement between the center and the Berkshire Family YMCA approved by the board last November.
An amendment to the agreement has also brought the senior center formally under the umbrella of the rec center, with the goal of increasing programs for seniors.
Jessie Rumlow, associate director of the Y, spoke about the recreation center's organizational assessment, which summarizes the Y's efforts and goals. Rumlow took on the role of rec center interim director throughout 2019, as the two parties determine whether it is a viable plan for the YMCA to take over after the agreement period ends Dec. 31.
"I just want to be clear that this is 100 percent a partnership," Rumlow said at the meeting. "And a YMCA cannot come in and do all of this work without the support of the community. So thank you."
The town is paying the Y $3,600 per month throughout the duration of the agreement for services, including the installation of Rumlow as interim director.
The assessment summarizes efforts in the Y's three areas of focus: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. It was completed by the Y, in conjunction with its staff.
The board was not asked to take any action on the assessment, which was required within 120 days of the agreement's effective date.
Stuart Hurd, town manager, has described 2019 as a "transition year" in the agreement.
"To see if they want to continue to work with us beyond this year, and see if we believe a partnership with them would have value," he told the Banner last week. "This [assessment] is part of getting to that answer."
Rumlow presented to the board about the Y's efforts in its three main areas of focus: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
A youth program, Kids Night Out, launched March 1, giving children ages 7 to 12 the opportunity to swim, eat pizza and participate in a STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math] project.
They're also focusing on other programs for kids, as not every child enjoys sports, Rumlow said.
Camp Green Mountain, another youth program, is provided at a reduced rate through a town subsidy, and parents can also apply for financial assistance.
"One of the things that I've heard as I talk about camp in this community is that we are one of the few programs that provide a program for working parents," Rumlow told the board.
Care starts at 7 a.m. and goes until 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Y's healthy living goal focuses on adult rec center and senior center users.
"At the rec center, we all know that space is the biggest challenge that we face," Rumlow said. Officials have applied for an Amplify grant through RiseVT to create a functional training room on site.
Upstairs, there isn't much space for body weight training and stretching. The center is also in "dire need" of cardio machines, but doesn't have a lot of space for them.
"We're just not able to meet the needs," Rumlow said. "That is definitely something we are looking into."
Rumlow also summarized work at the senior center, including a Healthier Living with Chronic Disease six-week workshop series and Friday yoga.
"The senior center schedule is so vast and has so many opportunities, and it's because of community partners who come in to do these programs," she said. "I really do want to give a shout-out to them as well."
The Y has partnered with community organizations, Rumlow said, with activities like a recent event that combined the annual egg hunt at the rec center with the Y's Healthy Kids Day.
At that event, people heard from community partners, including RiseVT, the police department and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. "We all walked away saying — this is possible," Rumlow said. "We can do this."
Rumlow also explained the top three priorities for the Y in Bennington, going forward.
The Y must figure out what its large revenue stream could be, she said. One idea is to add a school-age program to the senior center, another is to add family visitation at the rec center in partnership with the Vermont Department for Children and Families and probate court.
Rumlow said she also recommends renaming the senior center.
"Due to the fact that I have found that calling it a senior center really puts up a barrier for a lot of people to see it as a resource for adults in the community," she said. "Because a lot of 50-year-olds don't recognize, or view themselves, as a senior."
A third priority is to strategize about the best way to expand the fitness center, to increase the amount of cardio equipment.
The transition committee has heard, loud and clear, that communication is a must, Rumlow said.
"We need to be transparent, and upfront, with the transition and where we're going from here," she said.
Campbell said he was very pleased with Rumlow's report.
"Very briefly summarizing, it sounds like you want to expand the programs for all ages, which we're really excited about," Campbell said.
And programs for working parents are also important to the community, he said, so he's glad that's a focus for the Y.
"Creating multiple, powerful partnerships is fantastic, and that's something that really sets us up nicely for a future expansion of the rec center," he said.
Bill Scully, a member of the board, asked Rumlow how he could get feedback the Y is hearing from people using the facility.
"And, after we've been at it for six months or more, kind of seeing how you're accommodating people's concerns, or their ideas, or how they feel about what you're doing," he said. "I see a lot of great ideas. I just don't know if I'm going to be able to understand how well they're doing, and I'd like to know."
Campbell reminded the board that they will have regular check-ins with Rumlow, and asked her to address Scully's concern in her next update.
Jeanne Conner, a member of the board, said that the partnership with the Y is "not a takeover," in reference to a term used in a Banner article published Monday.
"I'm really glad you used `partnership,'" she said to Rumlow. "I thought it was really unfortunate that the journalist chose the word `takeover.' This is not a takeover. I just, I bristled when I saw that, and I really hope that words matter, and the writing and characterization of not only this issue, but any issue, needs to be accurate."
Asked by Conner how she is communicating all the "amazing things" going on at the Y to places like the medical community and the school system, Rumlow said she is "begging and pleading" to do this presentation anywhere she can.
In response to a question from Conner, Rumlow described the makeup of the transition committee, including a longtime volunteer at the senior center.
"It sounds like it's a thoughtfully put-together group of people," Conner said.
Board member Carson Thurber said that there's a noticeable difference at the rec center since the Y came on board.
"Please keep thinking outside the box," Thurber said to Rumlow. "On the senior center and the rec center — we need it."
Jeannie Jenkins, vice chairwoman of the board, said she recently ran into a man who had found the senior center newsletter, and was interested in their programming.
"He was like, `I didn't know this was for me,'" she said.
In response to a question from Jenkins, Rumlow said a conversation about how to create more space by doing things like tearing down walls in the rec center is in the very early stages.
An audience member asked Rumlow to explain more about children possibly coming into the senior center.
Rumlow said before-school students would be out of the facility by 8:30 a.m., and it would only be in the large space — the sitting room and arts studio would be open.
Kids would come back to the facility at about 3 p.m.
"This is just an idea, at this point in time," she said. "It would be providing a huge resource in addressing a huge need in our community."
"It's not there for kids," the audience member said. "Do older people not matter?"
Another audience member said that local taxpayers have been "shut out" of the process, after having paid for the rec center.
"You don't have the funding for the after-school programs," she said. "And so I have to wonder as a taxpayer, will the Select Board add more money into the budget that we'll have to pay?"
She asked how much it would cost if the town continues to work with the Y next year. "All of this is being worked out," Campbell replied.
If the town and the Y choose to work together past Dec. 31, there's no set plan for how long any future agreement would last, Hurd previously told the Banner.
"There are continuing questions as to what happens in the future, should this relationship become more cast in stone," he said. "Those are questions that we'll answer as we move through the whole process."
The transition team meets quarterly, and a full assessment will be coming in September, Hurd told the board. At that point, there will be recommendations for the board to act on, or not, he said.
"It strikes me that even though this is the 120-day assessment — it seems to me that we're moving at light-speed," he said. "There are things happening here that one could only think would like to happen, and they're actually in play."
The rec center and the senior center coming together under the same umbrella seems to be working, and working very well, he said.
"I think it's something that we all should welcome," he said.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at email@example.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
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