Manchester kids 'Unplugged'

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MANCHESTER — Since 2012, Manchester's Lisa Kelly has been encouraging kids to leave their gadgets behind and get outside.

That's the mission of her nonprofit organization Unplugged, which facilitates interpersonal connections through outdoor adventures.

"I think technology's great, but I also think it's really important to teach our younger kids how to leave the phone aside and go for a hike, or turn the phone off and just connect face to face," said Kelly. "I think connection on a real level has really been lost with technology."

A former teacher at Burr and Burton Academy, Kelly was disconcerted when she realized how intensely connected her students were to their electronic devices.

"The philosophy just came from me being frustrated seeing what was going on," said Kelly. "I have Facebook, I love my phone, I definitely live that life; but I also have to learn to leave the phone behind and go connect with someone. I was just trying to find a way to get kids to talk and see how technology really does affect us."

To turn that philosophy into reality, Kelly formed Unplugged in the interest of providing local kids with opportunities to enjoy each other in the outdoors. Excursions can include hiking, camping, Nordic skiing, yoga and more.

"The kids have done rock climbing up in Rutland, which is a great event, but we'll spend 20 minutes at the end talking about risk taking too," said Kelly. "I think once you open up, once you throw a question out to kids, they want to talk and they want to figure things out."

Having welcomed kids from across the Northshire, from Arlington to the mountain towns, Kelly has found immense support for the program from local institutions as well.

"What I love is that where we live there are so many nice venues," said Kelly. "Most of the local places are so generous."

This year, the program will welcome girls and boys from grades 3, 4, and 5 for the year-long program. While in the past Unplugged has required registration for a full year, Kelly is hoping to build in more flexibility this year.

"There will be opportunities for parents just to let kids drop in and do events," said Kelly, noting that she hopes to plan some events specifically for older groups. "This year the younger kids will definitely have to sign up for the full year, but I think we're going to look at the older kids and do some other programs."

Also new this year is Kelly's spin and yoga studio Zen Revolution, which opened this past spring. Going forward, Kelly hopes to integrate the studio into her work with Unplugged.

"I'm hoping to do weekly teen yoga on Friday afternoons, and use it as a gathering place," said Kelly. "I'm hoping to create a nice safe place there that we can do yoga, have a cup of tea, or just hang out."

While in past years the program has been led primarily by adults, Burr and Burton students will be at the helm this year.

"These kids are kind of student leaders at Burr and Burton who have known the program or have been a part of Unplugged and are just super kids," said Kelly. "They're kind of going to run the groups, with some adults overseeing the more extensive events."

These students will have some freedom in designing the program they'd like to provide to younger participants, with events like hiking and kayaking already planned, and have the opportunity to strengthen their own leadership skills.

"The high school kids coming down and being mentors to these younger kids is really exciting," said Kelly. "They're going to get to know these kids, have fun, and gain a life skill in working with younger kids and just learning about group dynamics."

As it enters its fifth year, Kelly hopes that Unplugged can encourage more local children to live in the moment.

"I feel like we're always thinking about what's next or what went on yesterday," said Kelly. "The events these kids do are opportunities to just be there, play, and get to know people."

When it comes to facilitating those human connections through disconnecting, nature provides the perfect context according to Kelly.

"I just think we need to keep encouraging kids to disconnect, and learn how to connect in real ways. I think nature does that, and I think groups do that," said Kelly. "We live in such a crazy busy world, you sometimes have to push people to get involved in things and leave the phones at home."

Unplugged will begin registration in mid-September. For more information, visit http://www.unpluggedvt.com/.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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