Introducing Kim Smith, Program Director

Girls/Boyz First begins its next chapter and welcomes new Program Director, Kim Smith, as former Director, Wendy Freundlich, retires after 22 years of dedication and service. Kim comes to us having served youth for over 20 years, most recently as Program Manager for Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide reading mentor program.

Having moved to central Vermont from Boston in 1997, Kim brings a diverse array of skills and interests. She discovered a passion for making the world a better place during her undergraduate years, majoring in English and Women’s Studies at Wesleyan University. Since then, she has worked with many nonprofits including Bikes Not Bombs, Goddard College and Food Works at Two Rivers Center. She’s been part of missions that range from substance abuse prevention, bioregional food security, bicycle repair and skill building for inner city youth to dance, education, afterschool enrichment and mentoring. As a community member and volunteer, she has coached student teams in Destination Imagination and First Lego League Robotics, served as Treasurer for the Main Street Middle School Parents Group, helped promote Montpelier’s Ice on Fire winter festival and served as Co-Coordinator at the North Branch Community Garden.

Mentoring helps kids feel more connected
and cared for…
Having a mentor to serve
as a role model and help them pursue their
interests is a big deal.

Kim explains, “Community has always been important to me. Knowing I have friends and others there to support me — to share knowledge and resources or to just have fun — helps me so much. I feel like people know me and I belong. Mentoring helps kids feel more connected and cared for, too. Having a mentor to serve as a role model and help them pursue their interests is a big deal.”

As both a former mentor and mentor program coordinator in Barre City, she knows the special bond that develops between mentors and mentees. “It’s so rewarding to see children thrive with individualized attention and watch their confidence grow. It’s exciting and reassuring for them to know this person is there, just for them, wanting to get to know them and have fun. They get to try new things and their outlook improves. They take pride in being part of something special.”

Though the need for mentoring has grown, programs have struggled, she explains. “The pandemic has been hard on all of us. More than ever, with parents and teachers so maxed out, kids can really use the stability and extra care that a mentor provides.” Despite mentor recruitment challenges and group activity limitations due to Covid, Kim hopes to experiment with an online mentoring component, implement skills-based outdoor workshops and diversify the volunteer base by inviting more BIPOC and queer community members to get involved. “As we come up with new approaches to pivot with the times, the promise of vaccines coming for elementary aged children will help a lot. We’re lucky to have a high vaccination rate in Vermont, but continuing to be thoughtful and cautious protects our vulnerable community members.”

Kim loves spending time with children and working with volunteers and is looking forward to making a difference in children’s lives through the Girls/Boyz First Mentoring program. “As much as we may want it to, the world doesn’t always offer awesome opportunities and promote healthy development for every child. Even the most excellent schools aren’t always a great fit for certain kids. That’s where mentoring can really help. But honestly, having a mentor is great for any child who wants one. Plus it’s rewarding, sometimes life-changing, for the mentors, too.”

Even the most excellent schools aren’t
always a great fit for all kids. That’s
where mentoring can really help.
But having a mentor is great for
any child who wants one. Plus it’s
rewarding, sometimes life-changing,
for the mentors, too.

Kim lives in Montpelier with her 16-year-old son and two cats. She loves to do crafts, paint with watercolors, ride bicycles, swim, cook, garden, play music, make soap, ice skate, hike, camp, and more. And she says, “If you like being with kids and doing fun stuff, you’d probably make a great mentor!”

Girls/Boyz First Mentoring is a program of Washington Central Friends of Education. If you or someone you know would like more information about becoming a mentor, please contact Kim at (802) 552-0249 or kim@girlsboyzfirst.org. You can also support Central Vermont children by making a tax-deductible donation online at https://girlsboyzfirst.org/donate-today/ or by mailing a check to Girls/Boyz First Mentoring, c/o Washington Central Friends of Education, PO Box 324, Montpelier, VT 05601-0324.

Photo credit: Rowan Harple








GBF Mentee, Sanela Bikic Receives Presidential Scholarship Nomination

Congratulations to Sanella Bikic, a graduating senior at Montpelier High School.  Sanela has been a mentee in Girls/Boyz First Mentoring since 2010. She is a Bosnian immigrant. Sanela has had the good fortune of having three mentors during this time, Amanda Payne, Alyssa Reed and her current mentor, Amy Cunningham.  Amy and Sanela began their mentoring relationship as a pair in Everybody Wins, a statewide reading mentoring program, and transferred into Girls/Boyz First in 2012.

“I am honored that all of my hard work has paid off”, said Sanela Bikic, who graduates from Montpelier High School this June.  This past January, Sanela was recognized, along with 30 other Vermont high school seniors in a ceremony at the Vermont Statehouse as a Presidential Scholar Nominee. The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, established in 1964, recognizes and honors some of our nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. Sanela was nominated for this scholarship by her teachers at the Barre Tech Center, where she has participated in the medical professional program this year.

“My mentors helped me develop my communication skills, become more mature and learn how to go into the world ready for a job”, says Sanela.  “Through creative projects like sewing clothing for my American Girl Dolls, decorating my room, baking and various other art projects over the years, I developed a sense of myself as a creative person.  I figured out in high school that it is through my creativity that I learn best!”  Currently, when she is not in school, Sanela works at Rite Aid and the Gary Home.  She owns a car that she bought with her own money. Sanela’s short term goals include applying for and receiving her American citizenship and deciding on her post high school educational plans.  Sanela is exploring her long term goals to become an RN with a specialization in maternal child health. She is interested in possibly pursuing a career in public health.

Amy believes Sanela’s strengths lie in her innate wisdom (“she is an old soul”), her sense of compassion and fairness, her incredible organizational skills and her great sense of humor.  Amy hopes that Sanela finds a career where she can use her gifts to help others, that she continues to be creative, connected and happy, noticing life’s beauty along the way.

Vermont’s presidential scholarship nominees exemplify the strengths of Vermont’s education system, one of the best in the nation,” according to Vermont Secretary of Education, Dan French. “Our students have excelled in science, math, history and the arts, and a diverse range of CTE programs. I am very proud of their excellence and hard work and I wish them the best as they represent our state at the national level for this award.”

Girls/Boyz First is proud of Sanela and her successes and wish her all the best in her post high school plans.



GBF Mentoring celebrates our 18th year!

Mentor pairs and families gathered at the Vermont State House in May to celebrate each other and our program. Maple Jam, a Vermont a cappella group, provided us with musical entertainment and a delicious pot luck was shared by all.