Students provide 'a real sense of community'

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BRATTLEBORO — When middle school students could not continue a fundraising project since they were no longer gathering in the school building, they decided to reach out to The Gathering Place, one of the organizations they intended to send money.

"They're like, 'They're home alone, they probably don't have a lot of interactions, they're older and disabled in some ways,'" said Stephanie Pike, science teacher and student leadership adviser at Brattleboro Area Middle School. "They wanted to write letters to let them know they're thinking of them."

About nine student leadership representatives volunteered to make cards for clients at The Gathering Place, which runs adult day facilities for seniors and individuals with disabilities in Brattleboro and West Dover but closed due to concerns around the

coronavirus pandemic.

Maggie Lewis, the organization's executive director, provided names and interests of all 54 program participants. For an example of an interest, one participant might enjoy playing cards.

Pike divvied up the list. The cards were due by Friday.

"I'm really excited," Lewis said. "I just think it's one of those stories that out of a difficult situation, there's a real sense of community."

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The seventh- and eighth-grade students are part of student leadership teams. They "really try to help the culture of the school try to be more positive, more inclusive to everybody — not only the students but the teachers," Pike said.

The teams started Penny Wars a few weeks before school closed due to the governor's order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Pike said every middle school student is driven by competition so the idea was to see which group could raise more money for local organizations such as Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Brattleboro Retreat, Vermont Foodbank and The Gathering Place.

Planning is underway for a virtual 5K fundraiser. Pike hopes to have details by the end of the month.

The Gathering Place's two sites closed March 18. Lewis said her group is still waiting for guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Vermont Department of Public Health and the governor as to when the facilities can reopen and in what type of capacity.

Staff members are keeping in touch with participants and their families through phone calls and letters. They also are starting to look at developing online programming.

Lewis suggested the potential to host bingo, chair yoga or an educational series through teleconferencing software. She also expects to get more cards to participants from elementary and high school students through Building a Positive Community, formerly Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition, which works with student leadership teams.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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