Catamount Fund grants more than $9k to local nonprofits

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BENNINTON — Through a new, Vermont native fund, United Ways of Vermont —Bennington County is continuing its mission of positively impacting the community. Throughout 2016 the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless' Unlocking Recovery program, Food Connects/Northshire Grows Farm to School Program, Center for Restorative Justice (CRJ) Youth Movie Night and the Youth Appreciation Day and Family Fun Walk all benefited from the United Way Catamount Community Fund with the support of local businesses and individuals' donations.

"The money given out comes from the money raised by donations in Bennington County and people are curious as to what is being done with those donations," said Kayla Becker, United Way resource and impact coordinator. "I also want people to know that this Catamount Community Fund is our annual fund that will be used year-after-year to give local nonprofit agencies money."

The $1,440 granted to the CRJ puts food in children's mouths that might not otherwise be available at home.

Youth Movie Night — a monthly event — has run for many years, but six months ago it was relocated from the Vermont Veterans' Home to Willowbrook Apartments. Leitha Cipriano, CRJ executive director, said the move was more convenient for the amount of children who live there and attend the movie night.

She said at first the organizers would bring snacks and tell the children not to ruin their appetite for dinner, considering the movie runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Cipriano said it became apparent that children were coming and leaving hungry because dinner wasn't waiting at home.

"We've been trying to provide meals once we realized the kids that were coming could really use a warm meal," she said. "We tried to do it on our own but didn't have the funding. [Catamount Community Fund] allows us to provide more."

At one point CRJ provided dinner from Ramunto's Brick Oven Pizza. Cipriano said she's been talking with the Career Development Center to provide meals for the children as well.

"Now we hope to offer full nutritious meals — homemade hearty meals for kids," she said. "We'll partner with community [organizations] to help cook the food [and] connect with different restaurants. We'll use it as a forum to introduce [the kids] to other services and connections to make in the community."

Youth Movie Night is held every fourth Thursday evening in the Willowbrook community room. Cipriano said children as young as 9 and 10-years-old up to 15-years-old attend. The event is open to any child, not just those in CRJ programs, she added.

CRJ provides prevention and intervention services for over 950 individuals in Bennington County. Eighty percent of its $500,000 operating budget is derived from state grants and contracts, according to its site.

Since late 2015, United Way has grown to be more present in Bennington County to implement positive changes. Those include the annual Day of Caring, Youth Appreciation Day, Peanut Butter & Jam Slam and collaborations with the Alliance for Community Transformations.

"We are looking forward to continuing to invest in meaningful impact programs to benefit our communities," Becker said.

Out of fiscal 2016 funds, Unlocking Recovery received $3,660; Seedlings Program/Big Brothers Big Sisters: $2,500; Farm to Table: $750; Youth Appreciation Day: $750; and Family Fun Walk: $300.

The fund was established to review local nonprofit requests for funding. Thus, a Community Impact Committee consisting of Sadie Fischesser, Agency of Human Services field director; Cathy Vogel, Vermont Department of Health Bennington district director; Chris Oldham, Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless executive director; Sharron Harrington, Vermont Birth to 5 regional manager; and Charlie Gingo, Greater Bennington Interfaith Council came together to fulfill those requests. On Aug. 12 the first meeting was held and nonprofits were selected in December, Becker said.

Oldham excused himself during the discussion and decision making for a portion of the meetings to avoid conflict of interest, Becker said.

"I would encourage them to apply if they have a impact work that would fit. Our funds for fiscal 16 are used, but fiscal 17 begins April 1 and the committee will begin reviewing submissions at their first quarterly meeting in the fiscal year," Becker said.

To inquire or apply, visit unitedwaysvtbennington.org or contact Becker at 802-681-8469.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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