Youth Empowerment & Engagement

Through the Youth Leadership Group, Youth Appreciation Day, Photovoice Contest, and other initiatives, ACT works to amplify youth voice and empower young people to make a difference in our community.

Youth Appreciation Day

May is Youth Appreciation Month in Vermont; but did you know it originated right here in Bennington? In 2013, a group of students from Southwest Tech (then the Career Development Center) drafted R-179 (H.C.R. 127) which was adopted by the VT House of Representatives, declaring April 27th “Youth Appreciation Day.” In 2016, then Governor Shumlin signed a new proclamation designating May “Youth Appreciation Month”! ACT members and local youth guided this effort and were present at the signing.

We host annual Youth Appreciation Month events in May to celebrate youth of all ages and all that they add to our community!

Follow Bennington Youth Appreciation Day on Facebook »

Youth Leadership Group

The Youth Leadership Group (YLG) is a partnership between ACT and Mt. Anthony Union Middle School. Co-facilitated by ACT staff and MAUMS Prevention Coordinator, the YLG is a youth coalition that focuses on peer-to-peer substance use prevention and mental health initiatives.

“The reason why I joined the YLG was to help people in our community. Another important thing to me was to try to help kids with their mental health and make sure their voice can be heard.” – Lucy P.

2021-2022 YLG Highlights

The 2021-22 Youth Leadership Group participated in the Getting to “Y” training in order to understand how to read and analyze data about the lives of teens and how to use the data to make change at school and for their peers. Concerned by survey data that only 54% of students say they feel they matter to the community—and this number decreases to 48% for students of color and 33% for LGBT students—the YLG worked on several initiatives this year to support their peers’ mental health and increase feelings of belonging and mattering in the community.

Weekly Wellness Announcements
Once a week on morning announcements, YLG members read a quote that inspires positivity, such as: “All great achievements require time” by Maya Angelou, and “No one else is you. That is your superpower!” They also paired this with a wellness tip, such as “Take time to draw or express how you’re feeling today.” The goal of the announcements is to remind their peers that they matter and they are part of a community that cares about them.

Bulletin Boards
The YLG also created bulletin boards as a way to promote positive messages and share resources. They created one in February that celebrated friendship, one for Brain Awareness Week that had information about how substances like marijuana, alcohol, and vaping impact teen brain development and mental health, and one to celebrate Pride. The boards included resources like quit help for vaping and suicide prevention lifelines and websites.

Community Dialogue & Dinner
The Community Dialogue is an event where the YLG presents to students, school staff, parents & other caring adults, and community members about this year’s activities. This year our special guest was Miss Vermont 2022, Alexina Federhen, who spoke about youth mental health and shared her own personal experience.

2020-2021 YLG

Click here to learn more about 2020-2021 YLG projects

The 2020-2021 Youth Leadership Group participated in the Getting to “Y” training to understand how to analyze the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a survey sent out every two years that polls the students of Vermont counties on topics from how many have access to three meals a day to how many students have ever tried alcohol. The YLG used the YRBS to identify the topics that they wanted to focus on bringing attention to in our community: Suicide Prevention & Mental Health and Vaping & Substance Use Prevention.

Social Media Campaign
Using technology and social media to their advantage, the YLG launched a social media campaign, posting a motivating image and quote every Friday. These posts received overwhelmingly positive responses from members of the community as well as school administration and peers. Follow ACT on Instagram »

Sunshine Boxes
The goal of the Sunshine Boxes is to bring a little bit of happiness to students’ lives when everything seemed so distant and negative. Sunshine Boxes are distributed once a month to students who signed up online. The box has a monthly theme, for example: Arts & Crafts; Build & Create; and De-Stress. In addition to fun activities, each box includes youth-centered resource information for mental health, crisis support, and substance quit help. Support the The Sunshine Box Project »

Sunshine Boxes

Sunshine Boxes are free take-home activity kits aimed at promoting healthy engagement while supporting youth mental health and substance use prevention. They were created by the ACT/MAUMS Youth Leadership Group in spring 2020 and have continued thanks to community support and sponsorship! Learn more »






Youth Photovoice Contest

ACT’s annual Youth Photovoice Contest challenges local youth to promote healthy choices, reimagine public spaces, and celebrate community.

  • 2021 Photovoice – Thrive: Take a photo of people, places, or things that help make the Bennington area great! View winning photos »
  • 2020 Photovoice – Quarantine Edition: How are you making healthy choices during Stay Safe, Stay Home? View winning photos »
  • 2019 Photovoice: What’s your vision for Bennington’s public spaces?

About Photovoice

The Photovoice method is a style of research that gives the participants a creative means of expressing their opinions that is used around the globe to enact social change.

In 2013, ACT was awarded a grant through the Vermont Department of Health to help explore what elements of our communities positively or negatively affect our ability to live healthy, vibrant lives. To achieve this, ACT set out to learn more about our food systems, how we access opportunities to be physically active, the bike-ability or walk-ability of our neighborhoods and much more.

Photovoice Bennington County was an opportunity to hear from youth, in their own words, what they see, feel, and believe about our communities and how elements of their daily lives impact their health. More than 50 youth from throughout the county created 60+ original pieces.