The Lyndon Economic opportunity AmeriCorps Program (LEAP) was founded in 2015 as the new vision for the Northeast Kingdom Initiative (NEKI) program, which has been changing lives of youth and families in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont since 1994.
LEAP endeavors to create a community of practice within the NEK; the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium defines a community of practice as “a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals”. As such, LEAP brings local non-profits together to share resources, knowledge, and ideas while creating supportive networks to help one another address ongoing problems in the community. Presently, LEAP partners with a minimum of 8 non-profit host sites in the NEK, implementing a variety of educational programs to youth and adults while increasing the capacity of their host site’s important work. Our host sites include organizations like Upward Bound, the Fairbanks Museum, Northwoods Stewardship Center, Green Mountain Farm-to-School, and more.
"Helping kids learn is key to building a prosperous economy for all of us. By fully utilizing the hours outside of school and taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to maximize collective impact, we can ensure that our kids are prepared to tackle the challenges of the future."
We know that access to a second dose of STEAM in an afterschool program, summer camp session, or year-round program will set up students for success in STEAM subjects, improve academic engagement and attitudes, help build their soft skills, give them access to additional caring and knowledgeable educators in the form of LEAP members, provide a space for social interaction, and enrich the schools and communities where LEAP programming is offered. Afterschool and out-of-school education has been shown to reduce childhood hunger and promote healthy childhood weight (Afterschool Alliance, 2022). In Vermont, there are 21,690 students enrolled in afterschool programming and 22,163 who want to be, meaning there is more than twice the need for afterschool programming than is currently available (Afterschool Alliance, 2020). LEAP members mostly lead afterschool programs but also lead in school and summer programming to provide support to NEK youth year round.
Specifically, LEAP curricula will focus on the following areas: STEAM early literacy, conservation and outdoor environmental education, farm-to-school education, college preparation, 4-H technology, and the natural sciences. LEAP members will deliver curricula units and capture data surrounding the number of youth served and the impact of LEAP programming on youth attitudes and enthusiasm for education.
The Northeast Kingdom (NEK) of Vermont is comprised of three of the most rurally isolated and poorest counties in the state (Orleans, Essex, and Caledonia) and is one of five USDA Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) zones in the country due to geographic isolation, declining employment opportunities, outmigration, and lack of public community resources. These challenges make life for youth in the NEK fraught with challenges of poverty. For example, over half of NEK K-12 students receive free or reduced lunch, compared, and one in three are food insecure. But, in the face of these challenges, there are incredible community organizations, local schools, libraries, and human service agencies working tirelessly to improve opportunities and outcomes for all. LEAP is very proud to be a part of these efforts and to call this resilient and beautiful community home.
LEAP is hosted at Vermont State University - Lyndon. VSU - Lyndon is one of the Vermont state colleges, offering access to 2- and 4-year degree programs and specialized certificates. VSU - Lyndon focuses on career preparation and real-life experience for students and is well known for: Electronic Journalism Arts, Atmospheric Sciences, Teacher Preparation, Music Business, Mountain Recreation Management, and much more. LEAP greatly values being a part of the campus community, and several current LEAP members are current students or alums of the college!
LEAP is an AmeriCorps State program funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and hosted our State Commission Office in Montpelier: SerVermont. AmeriCorps members can serve up to four terms of varying lengths (Full Time, Half Time, and Quarter Time) and have access to all the benefits that the CNCS has to offer, such as mental health care access, educational awards, networking opportunities, job skill training, etc. Full time members also receive access to health insurance and childcare assistance.
In 2021, Vermont was the third highest state for the number of National Service members per capita in the state. Vermont is passionate about service to others, and the AmeriCorps programs in the state reflect that philosophy.