On October 12, 2022

Area nonprofits offer a new leaf on fun

By Liz DiMarco Weinmann

If you’re the ringleader of an energetic family that has sampled every maple marvel known to humankind, plus scoped out more autumn selfie scenery than you ever could have imagined, you’re probably looking to, ahem, turn over a new leaf.

Coming to the rescue with plenty of other Autumn options are several local nonprofits whose staffs are among the friendliest people – eager to engage, educate, and entertain families of all ages, sizes, and abilities. Most activities below are within a 30-minute drive from Killington. (For hours, Covid requirements, and ADA accommodations, check websites at the end of this article.)

Come Alive Outside (CAO)

There’s no ambassador more enthusiastic about empowering everyone to enjoy nature than Come Alive Outside’s executive director, Arwen Turner. Turner’s background includes international leadership stints with Girl Scouts USA, and she’s always smiling, regardless of weather. (Her husband Paul is a cheery co-conspirator.)

This year’s CAO festivities include a Plaid Peeping Promenade on Oct. 15 in Pittsford; an Area 802 Scary Trail on Oct. 28 at Pine Hill Park in Rutland; and a pumpkin decorating and movie event, on Oct. 30, at White Rocks Inn in Wallingford.

“All CAO activities are free and open to anyone who wants to join in the fun,” said Turner, but participants must RSVP online. “RSVPing online ensures that we can make the events as enjoyable, safe, and welcoming as possible.” For more info, visit: comealiveoutside.com.

Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS)

The array of birds — plus dragonflies, reptiles, turtles, and mammals — has made VINS a must-see for families for 50 years, a milestone VINS is celebrating on Oct. 15, with several events. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth.

“Take in the fresh air, sounds, smells, and beauty that Vermont has to offer,” Assistant Executive Director Mary Davidson Graham suggested. “The Forest Canopy Walk is exciting during all four seasons, the leaves changing make it magical as the colors show off their glory.”

A new songbird aviary opened this year, where visitors can walk through and view the birds up close. Graham’s other pick for a favorite family treat is the VINS annual Halloween event, Hoots and Howls, being held on Oct. 29. For more info, visit: vinsweb.org.

Rutland Free Library (RFL)

RFL’s executive director (and busy dad) Randal Smathers, and his genial staff, accommodate all ages and interests — with books, computers, games, puzzles, and other fun.

Post-Covid, RFL has scheduled free children’s events again — each Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning, as well as after school and Saturday.

Smathers notes that programming for adult patrons has returned as well. “The First Wednesday speaker series is back at 7 p.m. each month through December in the Fox Room, and our popular yoga group on Thursday afternoons is also back.”

All RFL programs are free and open to all, but Smathers suggests checking the website for registration. “Otherwise, all programs are drop-in friendly!” For more info, visit: rutlandfree.org.

WonderFeet Kids’ Museum

What began about 10 years ago as the dream of several determined educators has evolved into an interactive multi-media family attraction.

Executive Director Danielle Monroe oversees a mind-boggling array of activities to stimulate children’s spatial, artistic, scientific, linguistic, and technical skills — and then some. She told me she first fell in love with WonderFeet as a new mom, looking to bond with other new moms.

WonderFeet founder and board member, Paul Gallo, who was instrumental in launching WonderFeet when his daughter (now at UVM) was in middle school, said when they were hiring a new executive director four years ago, Danielle Monroe emerged as the ideal candidate.

The museum is now open every day except Mondays and Wednesdays, and fall fun is in full swing. Monroe noted, “We have a Halloween costume shop, a creepy skeleton sensory bin, and a different fall art project featured each week.”

If all goes well, WonderFeet will be moving in the spring into a larger space codesigned by a retired Disney Imagineer. For more info, visit: wonderfeetkidsmuseum.org.

The MINT Makerspace

When local educator (and busy mom) Kimberly Griffin was selected earlier this year as The Mint’s executive director, the news sparked excitement among business leaders, craftspeople, and educators alike. During Covid, Griffin’s ingenuity led her to create a series of educational activity boxes for local children, to engage them in interactive play and learning beyond screens. The MINT describes itself as “a place for tinkerers, makers, and small businesses to have space, contacts, and equipment, as they share their knowledge, experience, and ideas.” As Griffin explained, “It’s geared toward people who want to either become members and make on their own or attend one of The MINT’s classes as an introduction to a new craft or technique.”

With her degree in architecture, as well as expertise and experience in teaching families about locally sourced healthful foods, Griffin is a natural to lead The MINT. At present, tours of The MINT are available only by appointment but Griffin noted that in November The MINT will have more offerings, for older youths and adults.

“Those include a pop-up retail shop, through the holidays, and a miniature makerspace for youth and adults.” Perhaps Kim Griffin’s mantra is “Build it, and you’ll have fun!” For more info, visit: rutlandmint.org.

The staff at these nonprofits are the heart and soul of this region. They are our neighbors, they are our friends, and they are among the most genuine and passionate advocates and ambassadors for the can-do spirit of Vermont — up close and personal.

Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is principal and owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions: lizdimarcoweinmann.com.

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