Vandals Target Youth Organization, Fundraiser Formed In Response

Boys & Girls Club of the North Country executive director Sara Shovlin. (File photo)

The vans were vandalized.

Now the community is rallying to help.

A fundraiser was launched Thursday to assist the Boys & Girls Club of the North Country, which had catalytic converters ripped from two extended cab passenger vans.

Within six hours, the campaign had raised over $6,000 towards its $7,500 goal.

Donations will go towards van repairs and maintenance, as well as the installation of a video security system and additional outdoor lighting to prevent further such crimes.

The fundraiser was started by Dayna Flumerfelt, a member of the BGCNC Board of Directors, who felt compelled to act.

“As a Board member of the Club, when I saw the news, I knew something needed to be done. Knowing what we’ve been through in the past year with all the COVID challenges and our fundraising events being canceled, I figured a fundraiser would be a good way to cover the costs associated with what happened,” she said, adding, “[The] only way to cancel out something so awful happening to such a great organization is with kindness, love, and support — which I’m grateful the North Country has plenty of.”

Sara Shovlin, executive director of the BGCNC, said the vandalism was discovered on Tuesday.

The 12-passenger vans are typically used to transport kids for after-school programs and field trips.

Fortunately, in response to COVID challenges, the Boys & Girls Club has contracted with outside transportation providers for its after-school program since re-opening on March 22. That has allowed them to continue uninterrupted.

However, the vans will be pressed into service once summer programming kicks off, and will resume after-school transportation in the fall.

“During the school year when it’s not COVID [the vans] are used every single day to pick up our members. And during the summer program we’ll definitely be using them for field trips, and getting the kids out in the community,” Shovlin said.

It is unknown when the vandalism occurred.

In total, three vans were struck. The third belonged to a contractor who was installing a commercial kitchen at the club. Catalytic converter theft has been on the rise nationwide, with several incidents reported across the North Country in the past year.

The matter is being investigated by Lisbon Police.

It adds to a series of challenges for the Boys & Girls Club during COVID.

The club was closed for approximately eight of the past 12 months due to the pandemic. They re-opened last month with less than half the enrollment and double the staffing as pre-COVID, in order to follow COVID safety protocols.

Those enrollment limits and staffing requirements are expected to remain in place through the summer.

That means less income and more salary, not to mention the additional COVID costs for transport, personal protective equipment, and hand sanitizer.

Fortunately, the Boys & Girls Club was able to access state COVID relief funds through the Child Care Recovery and Stabilization Program (CCRSP) to offset lost revenue and a lack of fundraising.

“Of course it takes just as much money to operate a program for less kids so we were really fortunate that we were able to secure [CCRSP funds],” Shovlin said. “It definitely hurts the budget when you have to double the number of people working for half the amount of kids.”

Moving forward, it remains unclear how willing families will be to send students to after-school and summer youth programs, through the Boys & Girls Club, town recreation departments, or other outlets.

Despite decreasing its after-school program slots from 72 to “about 30,” the Boys & Girls Club accepted all applicants this spring, with no waiting list required. That reflected hesitancy among some households.

“We’ve had a few families that have been on the fence. That have signed up, and pulled back, and inquired again, and ultimately decided to pull the application. We see a few people that have kids in other extra-curricular activities and they’re just trying to minimize the amount of places that they go after school. I think everyone’s trying to cut back on potential exposure,” Shovlin said.

Meanwhile, the Boys & Girls Club has gone to great lengths to ensure safety among its kids. They are separated into pods, follow standard COVID safety measures, and during the warmer weather, the club’s campus along the Ammonoosuc River allows for adequate outdoor social distancing.

Welcoming them back last month, Shovlin was encouraged.

“It was really hard when we were closed thinking of those kids who are not in the best situations. But it definitely makes my heart full to see them down here and have a safe place to go, interacting with their peers,” she said.

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