United Way of Northwest Vermont
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Another summer of fun for the Abenaki Circle of Courage in Swanton

By Bridget Higdon for the Saint Albans Messenger 

SWANTON — Twenty-five kids weaved intently with colorful yarn Wednesday during day 8 of summer camp with the Abenaki Circle of Courage.

“It’s really enjoyable,” said Caine Gregoire, seated at a table piled with craft supplies. “I get to see my friends and have a lot of fun.”

Abenaki Circle of Courage camp is an extension of the afterschool program of the same name that director Brenda Gagne has been running in Swanton for 30 years. The program typically runs October to May and goes on hiatus during the summer months, but a $10,000 grant from the United Way of Northwest Vermont made a summer version possible for the second year in a row.

Held from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Friday, the camp was expanded to two weeks this year and is open to kids in grades K-6. Older kids can volunteer to help lead the group.

Each day is filled with a variety of activities, including arts and crafts and time to run and play.

This past week, kids learned Abenaki dancing and beading history from Takara Hansell of the Native American Women Warriors. They weaved their own ash and sweetgrass baskets with Kerry Wood of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, made salsa and jam, and completed a number of arts and crafts projects with Creative HeART Counseling.

Kids are also served breakfast, lunch and snack, most of which Gagne cooks up herself. Ashton White, age 11, said one of his favorite parts of camp is her cooking.

Gregoire, Jasmyn Hemenway, Sage Gould and Ceila Cota made up the volunteer team this year.

“I’ve been around the circle since I was a baby,” Gould said. “I grew up here. Now, I like playing my guitar for the kids and doing crafts with them.”

The circle currently utilizes the Nativity Parish Center for its programming, but Gagne’s dream is for the group to eventually have a building of its own. She’s on the lookout for grant money that would make the move possible and would like to stay on ancestral Missisquoi land in Swanton or Highgate.

After a lunch of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, the kids Wednesday were going to start bead looming, a meticulous art that Gagne enjoys teaching.

While many of the campers are Abenaki, not all of them are. Gagne said what she likes best about the circle is the way it blends learning with fun.

“I am glad youth are still interested in learning about who we [the Abenaki] are,” Gagne said. “I hope they go home and teach their parents and their grandparents about who we are.”

Click here to read on the Saint Albans Messenger website.