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Bradford, Vt., Woman Helps Young Adults Find Their Voices

Katherine Rose, director of the Bradford Teen Association, plays pool with Jessie Sylvester, 16, at Bradford Academy last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Katherine Rose, director of the Bradford Teen Association, plays pool with Jessie Sylvester, 16, at Bradford Academy last week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

Bradford, Vt. — Katherine Rose has held several jobs throughout her 47 years. But of all the various positions she has held, she prefers to describe herself primarily as a mother. “That’s my best job,” she said, being a mother to her two children, ages 20 and 22, and looking forward to the arrival of her first grandchild, due sometime in late February or early March.

But it’s not just tending to the needs of her own offspring that keeps this Bradford resident busy. She is also director of the Bradford Teen Association, a town-supported organization that she and other community members helped found about four years ago.

Rose recently spoke with the Valley News about the history of the Bradford Teen Association and the ongoing activities that she and the group’s young adult members are involved with. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

Valley News: How did you become involved with the Bradford Teen Association?

Katherine Rose: This program used to be the Boys and Girls Club of the White River Valley. When (my family moved back) into town (from Montpelier about nine years ago), my son was involved with them and I became a volunteer. They had the after-school program, which was three days a week. That mainly provided a place for the kids to go so they wouldn’t go home to an empty house. A lot of parents work. The kids could get homework help and have different events. The Boys and Girls Club of the White River Valley had three other hubs, so the kids were able to go and do things. We became the Bradford Teen Association when the White River Valley (Boys and Girls Club) said they were going to pull all their funding out of Bradford. That meant (losing) not only the teen program, but also an elementary school homework club and a summer camp. That happened around 2009. So a few of us, members of the community, went to the town and took on the Bradford Teen Association.

VN: What services does the after school program provide?

KR: It’s for kids in middle school and high school, seventh through 12th grade. We have the teen lounge after school three days a week (at Bradford Academy). It’s a place for the kids to socialize in a positive atmosphere and to complete their school work. We have team meetings a lot of times and plan fundraisers and work on leadership skills, although don’t tell them we work on leadership skills. (Laughs.)

VN: Do teenagers not like to think of themselves as leaders?

KR: We just work on the skills together. I don’t sit there and say, “These are leadership skills.” I just try to get the kids to be involved, to know that they have a voice and become involved, especially with the volunteer work. They love doing it. So my dream is that they’ll remember that so that when they get to be adults they will want to volunteer in their community.

VN: What kind of volunteering do the kids do?

KR: We help with the food shelf. We’ve had one teen actually work there one day a week since school began. We help with big deliveries. We’ll all go down and help unload. We’ve raked leaves at the Academy Building to help the janitor out. We’ve recorded a Bradford Historical Society event. It was called “Old and Forgotten Roads.” We’ve done the memory tree event, held at Elizabeth’s Park. We’ll be doing the Easter egg hunt extravaganza coming up in Elizabeth’s Park. That will be a big one. That’s fun, too.

We’ve collaborated with other organizations, like (hosting a teen) New Year’s Eve party. We collaborated with the Christian education program at the (Congregational) Church. We got about five teens. A lot of parents stayed in with their kids this year. But we plan on doing it again next year and doing it bigger so that, hopefully, more kids will come.

VN: How many kids do you see at the teen lounge after school?

KR: It varies. It’s a drop-in center. I have about 15 members who are registered members and then I have kids that will come to check it out and then they get involved with their basketball programs or plays or whatever they’re doing. Some days it can be low. Holidays are usually a hard time for the lounge. I’ll get maybe four to eight kids. But usually I have eight to 10 kids, sometimes 15 to 20. It all depends on what’s going on.

VN: Do you have help? Twenty teenagers could be a handful.

KR: When I know there’s going to be a lot of kids, I do have a couple of parents who come in and help every once in a while. I have quite a few parents involved. Having them involved is pretty cool. They help with fundraisers. We worked at the Vermonster 4x4. We sold water and popcorn and 50/50 tickets. We did midnight madness, where we had a bake sale in front of the 5&10. It was very cold. Midnight madness, you can always depend on it being cold. (Laughs.)

VN: What’s one major challenge you see teenagers faced with?

KR: There are so many, (but) bullying is the big one. I think there’s more peer pressure and more harassment. I guess back in our day, it was kids being kids, that was the take on it. Now we see it as bullying and harassment. With Twitter and Facebook and texting, the electronics bring it to a whole new level. Back in our day, you had to usually come face to face with someone, or you would write notes. Nowadays, it’s so easy to pick up a cell phone and text whoever and say whatever you want. I think it makes it more than it used to be. The kids go home and start being on Facebook and saying mean things or getting mean things said to them. It might not even be meant to be mean, but they take it that way. I think it can be nonstop these days.

VN: Are there any major events that the group is involved with?

KR: I get the kids involved with the Youth in Transition grant in the state of Vermont. They hold a conference every year called the Young Adult Voice Movement conference. We’ve been involved with that since Day One. They work with kids ages 16-21, helping them with their leadership skills. It helps them know that they have a voice, letting the young adults know that they can verbalize and they can say what they want for themselves. It lets them know that they can say something, so that they’re not just being quiet and standing on the sidelines. This will be our fourth year in that conference. We had one teen who was on the statewide planning committee for the conference and then she and two other young adults in Vermont were able to go to Chicago for a national conference. It showed that they could do something, that they’re not just young adults on the sidelines.

We get some local perks now and again. There was the Grand Slambovians concert at Bradford Academy. We were able to help decorate the auditorium for the concert and we were the ones to un-decorate and do whatever they needed after the concert. It was an awesome concert. I was able to bring six young adults and some had never even heard of (the band) before and they fell in love with it. They were able to get their pictures taken with the band and they helped the band pack their equipment and take it to their vehicles. They were like roadies for the night. By the end of the night (the band members) were calling the young adults by name. That’s empowerment, knowing that they helped and that they were noticed.

VN: The young adults in your group are involved in some pretty significant community volunteer efforts. Do you think they ever see themselves as a teen equivalent of an adult civic group such as the Lions Club?

KR: I don’t know if they’ve ever thought of it like that. I know they love being involved and that’s what I work on. They come out in droves for it. We do free movies twice a month. We started last fall up at Elizabeth’s Park having outdoor movies. Usually they come in droves to help with the movie. They want so much to be involved.

VN: So if you provide them with something specific to do, they respond well to that?

KR: Right. They love helping out. We’ll be doing the Easter Egg Extravaganza on March 23. We’ll continue our free movies and the community service in town when we can. We’ll start planning the memory tree event for next year. We did that at Christmas, during the holidays. You buy an ornament in someone’s name who has passed. We go up to Elizabeth’s Park and we had hot cocoa and cookies and you put your ornament on the tree. I think we picked one of the coldest days that we did it on. But it was just fun getting together and talking about their (loved ones). So we’ll be planning that next year as well. And then we’ll be doing the Young Adult Voice Movement conference when that comes up, usually in June.

Editor’s Note: The Bradford Teen Association holds an after-school program for students in grades 7-12 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 2:30-6 p.m., in room 26 of the Bradford Academy Building on Main Street. For additional information, email bradfordteenassociation@gmail.com or visit http://bradfordteenassociat.wix.com/teen-lounge. Diane Taylor can be reached at 603-727-3221 or dtaylor@vnews.com.