BENNINGTON — A Bennington College teacher who co-founded a successful program for at-risk youth is proposing a new idea: a community youth fund to help kids.
Susan Sgorbati, who teaches dance and mediation at the college, founded Quantum Leap with Danny Michaelson 15 years ago. The program helps students who are at risk of dropping out remain in or return to school.
While Sgorbati said Quantum Leap has served more than 2,000 young people over the years, she said there’s still more that needs to be done.
“One of the things that I’ve observed after 15 years is there’s still a bunch of youth in Bennington that seem to be disaffected, particularly outside of school,” she said. “Many youth still talk about how they need other things to do during the times when they’re not in school.”
Sgorbati has asked the Select Board to support the creation of an organization through which young people ages 14 to 23 could apply for small grants to fund a project. An advisory committee, made up of community members, would make funding decisions based on applications.
She suggested the grants would range from $500 to $2,000 and would be awarded based on the potential impact to the community. The applications would have to name an adult who had agreed to supervise the young person’s project.
After the project was completed, the young person would submit a report explaining what was accomplished and how it benefited other young people. Sgorbati said she would want to publicize those reports because she envisioned the funding would come from the public and the town.
“It’s basically just to really encourage and support youth-initiated projects,” she said. “The projects would come from the youth, and I would hope even if there were two or three really good ones the first year, that would make a big difference because it would involve a lot of other youth in Bennington.”
Despite her connection to Bennington College, Sgorbati said she didn’t envision the organization being a funding source for college students. She said she wanted to help young people who had ideas and enthusiasm but not the money to move forward with their goal.
Sgorbati told the board she was still considering the details of the organization. For instance, she had considered asking residents to fund it through donations made at Town Meeting Day, but Select Board Chairman Joseph Krawczyk Jr. said he didn’t know whether it would be legal to collect money at that forum.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd and Krawczyk said it might be possible to collect money at the floor meeting the day before voting, but Hurd said he would need to check the legality.
Sgorbati said she had wanted to keep the funding low so the program could be self-sustaining. The idea she first discussed was to collect voluntary donations and have the town match the amount collected.
She told board members she thought it would be meaningful to the young people if they knew that community members were willing to contribute toward their ideas, even if the contributions were modest.
Select Board members said they had some questions but were supportive of the idea.
Sgorbati said she would come back to the Select Board in January when it is considering the upcoming budget. She said she would be open to any idea that would help make the program a reality.
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