We can’t change every bad situation in kids’ lives, but when they’re with us they’re happier, fed and having fun in a safe place.
We recently reached out to Kelly Viens of the St. Albans Recreation Department and asked her some questions about how her work, and that of the recreation department, strengthens the tomorrows of our local families. Here’s what she had to say:
Hi Kelly. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a lifelong resident of St. Albans and live here with my husband. My daughters and their families live in St. Albans as well, choosing to raise their families here. I started working for St. Albans Recreation Department as a swim instructor when I was in high school. Over the years I have also worked as a lifeguard and fitness class instructor as well as owned and operated a party store in downtown St. Albans. Landing back in recreation as the director feels like a perfect fit for me.
What social issue are you passionate about or have the opportunity to interact with through your career?
I come from the world of aquatics—teaching kids to swim and about safety in, on and around water have been a priority in my world. Working at St. Albans City Pool as manager when I returned to the recreation department gave me first-hand insight to a large population of kids at risk—living in hostile environments, not having enough food, being without supervision and care. Giving kids a safe, fun place for them to come to each day became an extremely important part of our mission at the pool.
How, specifically, are you and the rec helping kids at risk?
St. Albans Recreation Department boasts a wide array of programming for kids and adults, however, Aquatics and Day Camp are the backbone of summer programming. Our aquatic programming and instructors are second to none. They are highly trained and take the responsibility of instilling lifelong safety lessons as well as the ability to swim seriously. We work together constantly to improve the delivery of instruction. Our Day Camp runs every weekday throughout the summer and we’ve extended to operating camp each day school is out of session for in-service days, school vacations and most recently, snow days. Again, a terrific staff delivers a fun, active day in a safe setting for kids. In addition, we’ve partnered with the Federal Free Lunch program to offer free, nutritious meals in a safe setting for kids at the poolhouse, as well as at Barlow Street Community Center and City Hall. We’ve also revamped our concession offerings, removing sugary, processed food and beverages from the menu, making it easy for kids to make a healthy snack choice.
Have you seen positive results due to your work?
We’ve had several parents come to us over the years and tell us that they think the water safety portion of our swim lessons saved their child’s life. We teach kids to “reach or throw—don’t go” and to get a grown-up. We hear from parents who tell us that their kids remind the parents “don’t just pack it, wear your jacket” regarding the importance of life jackets. Those few minutes spent at the start of each swim lesson stick with kids. With the free lunch program, we see kids everyday sitting and enjoying lunch with their friends and/or siblings in a happy, safe place. We can’t change every bad situation in their lives, but when they’re with us they’re happier, fed and having fun in a safe place.
What are your goals for the next three to five years?
Our pool is aging. At 40 years old it is way past its 25-year life expectancy. We’ll be directing efforts to build a new community pool that will build on current offerings and programming as well as extended year-round use. As with many good things—funding is the obstacle.
Would you like to give a shout out to anyone who’s worked with you to improve our tomorrow?
Yes! Rec staff —Andrew Gratton, Dee Christie, Isaac Bashaw, Nohea King, Tom Koldys and Chris Messier, who head up our summer programming with a VERY strong support staff of camp counselors, swim instructors & lifeguards. RiseVT for supporting our efforts financially, Premiere Sponsors —Heald Funeral Home, TABS, Inc., Classic Imprints, People’s Trust Company, Clarence Brown, Cold Hollow Photography, Rotary, Northwestern Urgent Care, JAZ Entertainment, Mimmo’s, Dickinson & Branon Dental Care, Med Associates & Kevin Smith Sports. And, volunteers—too many to mention that help out coaching or with special events.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think St. Albans is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Are there problems, yes—as there are everywhere. But there are far more good things happening than bad. Bad gets the press. I hope to see and work on more programming and fun for entire families.