Youth sports play a significant role in the development of the next generation. Many valuable life lessons are learned on the athletic fields.
The Bennington Sports Foundation understands this, and is committed to providing financial and other assistance to athletic programs in order to give children and teens in Bennington the opportunity to reach their potential in sports and life.
The nonprofit organization — formed in 2021 — began giving back to the community last summer, rewarding grants to a pair of local organizations focused on helping children.
Deborah Larkin, BSF’s co-chair, was quick to note during a presentation at Monday’s Bennington Select Board meeting that the local sports programs already in place are doing a phenomenal job with keeping kids active. The foundation’s purpose is not to take away from those programs, but rather “to serve a niche in the community.”
“There’s a group of kids who don’t get to participate because of some social issues — maybe they have financial barriers, transportation barriers or food insecurity,” she said.
That’s where BSF is providing its help. The foundation is offering $20,000 annually in grants to local programs that will seek out kids who are currently not participating in sports programs and provide them the opportunity. The grants come in increments up to $2,000.
The money has already translated into new opportunities.
Battle of the Future is a youth basketball program focused on “enhancing athletic skills to reach your fullest potential,” according to its Facebook page. BSF rewarded the Bennington County youth program a total of $3,000 last summer according to DeShawn Hamlet, the organization’s director.
The grants allowed nine area kids to participate in Battle of the Future’s four-week summer camp free of charge, and gave financial assistance to another nine families. A total of 18 kids who otherwise would not have been able to participate received the opportunity because of the new foundation.
Hamlet is appreciative of BSF’s commitment to the younger generation.
“I think that this organization is doing a great job making it about the youth,” Hamlet said. “There’s not that many people in Bennington that worry about the youth.”
Hamlet said the Bennington Recreation Center and the Mount Anthony Youth Athletic Association do “an amazing job” in the community, but there remains a need, specifically financially.
“Money is an issue, and it is for everybody,” Hamlet said. “So having somebody knowing the problem in Bennington and trying to help is really big and it makes the job easier.”
The foundation has a reach beyond allowing kids to play sports. It also works with youth organizations like the Berkshire Family YMCA, which co-runs the Bennington Recreation Center with the town of Bennington. The recreation center hosts a summer camp, and with help from the BSF, the program was able to reach more kids last summer.
BSF is also awarding money to these organizations to hire teens, and that’s exactly what Bennington Recreation Center Director Kayla Becker did. Kids typically “age out” of the summer camp programs, but with the funds supplied by the BSF, multiple teens were hired as mentors and leaders. The hires enhanced the experience of the younger campers while simultaneously keeping the teens involved.
“We’re so glad the BSF was created. It’s providing funding so we can attract new kids to get involved and stay involved in our programs,” Becker said in a BSF press release.
BSF has also contributed to the center’s ongoing after-school meal service to address food insecurity. A total of 24 kids have benefited from these new programs.
BSF has raised $300,000 since its inception, and is targeting a goal of $500,000. Local businesses such as the Bank of Bennington and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center are among the donors, but Larkin said BSF is also looking outside the local community for funds.
“We really don’t want to cannibalize on the local fundraising,” she said. “However, people are very generous and if they want to give one time or twice or whatever, [that’s great].”
The Bennington Bike Hub — located at 160 Benmont Ave. — has partnered with BSF to provide transportation to those who would otherwise not have a way to attend their programs or camps.
The Bennington Sports Foundation operates through a volunteer board and staff. Co-Chairs Larkin and Jeannie Jenkins are joined by board members Carolyn Blitz, Angela Bevin, Steve Kimball, Melissa Morrison, Jonathan Phipps and Carson Thurber.
“We’re not going to solve all the ills and it’s not going to be hundreds of kids,” Larkin said. “But it’s going to be enough that makes a difference. Every kid that comes in, it helps the child, it helps their friends, it helps the community and it helps their family.”
Interested organizations can apply for financial assistance at benningtonsportsfoundation.org through May 1. Grants will be awarded by June 1. Donations can also be made on the organization’s website.