Cold for a Cause: ‘Chilly Dippers' Support Vermont Homelessness Nonprofit

Spectrum Youth & Family Services has its largest annual fundraiser this Friday night

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A Vermont nonprofit’s work to provide a pathway to brighter futures for young people experiencing homelessness is once again getting a boost from a group that regularly turns heads on the shores of Lake Champlain.

The Red Hot Chilly Dippers are among the many community members and businesses raising money and attention for Spectrum Youth & Family Services, which helps at-risk teens and young adults in St. Albans and Burlington.

The Chilly Dippers take quick dunks in Lake Champlain all year long, even in the iciest months, insisting they are energizing and help them find clarity.

Now, the Dippers are using their social media posts to generate interest in the Spectrum Sleep Out, taking place the night of Friday, March 25. The event will see campers spending the night outdoors to show solidarity with young people experiencing homelessness.

"It is literally life-saving," Tian Berry, a former Spectrum Youth & Family Services client, said of the non-profit and its services.

Berry told NECN the organization helped her turn her life around several years ago, through access to meals and housing— at a time she didn’t always know where she was going to spend the night. 

"Spectrum is a very safe place— lots of welcoming individuals," said Berry, who now works in human services herself.

The executive director of Spectrum Youth & Family Services said pledges to the annual Sleep Out fundraiser gathered by the Dippers and hundreds of other individuals will support mental health counseling, job readiness programs, drop-in centers, and emergency shelter for youth experiencing homelessness.

“I’m so grateful,” Mark Redmond said of the support from nearly 550 people currently raising money for the Sleep Out. “I’m grateful 26 kids had a warm bed to sleep in last night, rather than sleeping in the woods.”

Redmond said the problem of youth homelessness is even more complex to address now, given a shortage of housing for low- and middle-income Vermonters. State and community leaders have described the housing situation as being at a crisis level.

“We’re having trouble finding housing for our most successful youth who are really ready to move on, because now they can’t even find affordable housing for themselves,” Redmond noted.

The executive director said Spectrum has been investing in its mental health counseling services in recent years, since that is universally seen as another of Vermont’s most pressing challenges.

Kath Montstream, one of the original Red Hot Chilly Dippers, is not only using her icy Lake Champlain dips to generate buzz for the Sleep Out. She is also auctioning off original watercolor paintings for the cause, using her Facebook page as an auction platform. 

"I love painting the lake, but also being able to immerse yourself into this icy bath is kind of a crazy thing," Monstream said, explaining that her daily dips help her focus and leave stress behind in the water. "So it’s a great combination for me."

Spectrum said it is hoping to raise more than $400,000 through this year’s Sleep Out.

The Chilly Dippers said they are glad to get cold for an organization that provides warmth to young people when they need it most.

"I look forward to being able to contribute to their good work," Montstream told NECN. 

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