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'We Have Nothing To Do': How Vermont Teenagers Are Spending An Unusual Summer

A young woman running in a green yard.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
Natalie Strand runs through her Randolph backyard. This summer, she's training for her first track season at the University of Vermont. While the 18-year-old is usually a camp counselor and part of a local theater, this year, she's home for the summer.

In between being a kid and a grown-up, in between the end of one school year and the beginning of another, in between a world where life was predictable and a future that’s anything but. It’s a weird summer to be a teenager in Vermont.

In front of Paradise Provisions in Warren, Felix Kretz, 12, and his brother Reuben, 15, sat at a picnic table. They had just gotten BLTs from the deli for lunch after a morning of yard work. They wore t-shirts and face masks, and their shins and sneakers were covered in small pieces of grass. They had just been weed whacking.

The brothers have been spending their summer working for people who respond to their post on Front Porch Forum.

Two boys stand on stairs leading up to a house.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Reuben Kretz, 15, left, and his brother Felix, 12, stand for a portrait outside their Warren home on Tuesday, July 14, shortly after returning from yard work nearby.

“Any odd jobs that are available, we’ll take,” Reuben said. “Mulching, gardening, weed whacking, lawn mowing. We had one moving debris out of a creek. Anything.”

So far, they’ve made a few hundred bucks between them. Reuben said it’s nice to have something to do, but it’s kind of all he has to do.

“Last year I worked in a kitchen,” he said. “So that’s a lot different. And I went everywhere, went up to Burlington all the time, I hung out with friends all the time, didn’t have to wear a mask everywhere. It was a lot more, just, normal.”

A girl in a blue face mask sitting at a table by a window.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Sarah Evans, 16, sits for a portrait at Idletyme Brewing Company in Stowe, where she's working for the summer.

Sarah Evans, 16, lives in Stowe. She told VPR over FaceTime that this summer is one thing: weird.

“We’re all like, we have nothing to do. No one’s going on vacation, no one’s going out of town for their camps," she said. "It’s very weird."

In a world without a pandemic, Sarah would be out of town herself. In January, she applied to a mountaineering program for teenage girls. And right now, she’s supposed to be on an expedition on the West Coast, or maybe in Alaska — she’s not sure, because before she found out where she would have gone, the trip was canceled.

Instead, she said, “It’s going to be like an online science class.”

Three young people in door frame.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Stowe High School rising junior Sarah Evans, right, started working at Idletyme in February in order to pay for the National Model United Nations conference, which ended up getting canceled. Evans is still working there, and she recruited some fellow students to get jobs this summer, too, like rising freshmen Lucy Andrus, center, and Andrew Weber.

But Sarah said she’s still excited about having something extra to do, and she’s been hiking a lot with her friends. She got her driver’s license in January, so she’s not stuck at home all the time. She’s also working as support staff at the Stowe restaurant Idletyme.

"I’m really glad that I have a summer job right now,” she said.

This spring, Sarah finished her sophomore year of high school online. She says it was really lonely; most of her classmates kept their cameras off, and even though she and her friends would video chat between — and sometimes during — class, it wasn’t the same. She says the isolation changed her.

“Whether it be having so much alone time, and like, having all my thoughts to myself, and you know, I wasn’t filling all my time up with going to school, going to sports, and then coming home and then having dinner and then doing homework," she said. "I wasn’t filling my time up, and my head was given a chance to think about a lot of different stuff.”

Three young women in masks around a restaurant hosting booth.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Sarah Evans chats with fellow Idletyme hosts Kaylie Heltzel, right, and Deirdre Martin-Baker, left during a slow period at the Stowe restaurant on Tuesday, July 14.

She said the pandemic and quarantining made her more social, and what she loves most about going to work is that she sees people all day.

“I’m like a social butterfly at work, I talk with every single person," Sarah said. "And everyone comments, they’re like, ‘Sarah, you’re so social now after quarantine.' I realized how much I love human interaction and being with people.”

Sarah is going to be a junior this fall, and she knows the classroom will probably look kind of like the restaurant she’s working at with distanced seating, sanitizing, and masks. What she doesn’t like is the prospect of staggered class schedules, or going back to remote learning. That would mean she wouldn’t get to see her friends, which “would really suck,” she said.

“It would be hard to, I don’t know, get through the fall semester," she added.

More from Brave Little State: How's Everybody Doing?

A young woman stands holding onto a tree branch
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Natalie Strand stands for a portrait with her favorite weeping willow tree, which she said she remembers her family planting when she was little.

Natalie Strand, who’s 18, is heading to UVM in the fall. She would have spent her last summer before college as a counselor at Lotus Lake camp in Williamstown. She’s been going since she was seven.

But:

"This year is like the first year in, like, ever, that [Lotus Lake is] closed," Natalie told VPR. "So I'm kind of just at home, not working."

A young woman stretching on a mat
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Natalie Strand does stretches for her back at home in Randolph, where she's preparing for her first year as a University of Vermont student and a member of the track team.

She’s also training and working on healing a back injury — she got recruited to run on UVM’s track team. She doesn’t know how the season will be affected by the pandemic, though practices will start out in small groups and there probably won’t be regional meets.

In the meantime, she says she’s kind of glad to have a relaxed summer.

“I’ve kind of just been trying to take it as a gift, in a way, and try to look at the positive sides of things,” she said. “Although I’m not going to be able to spend the summer with my campers, I’ve reached out to people about child care, so I’m just trying to figure it out.”

A young woman with a guitar.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Natalie Strand said spending her summer mostly at home can get lonely, but she bought a guitar with her graduation money, and she now practices in the yurt her brother, Paul, built for his high school senior project in 2018.

Back in Warren, Reuben Kretz says that close to home, life for him and his brother hasn’t changed too much. There are still swimming holes to jump in, trails to bike on, and friends to see. He and Felix say they feel lucky to be able to do all that, and they aren’t too worried about the coronavirus.

“[In this part of Vermont] it’s a little loose, cause there’s not many, or if any, cases,” Reuben said.

But there’s always a reminder that things aren’t totally normal. Felix said two of his friends just got back from a trip to North Carolina.

"Now I can’t hang out with them for another two more weeks, because they have to quarantine," he said.

A class of 2020 sign for felix kretz
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
A sign marking the end of a weird school year and the beginning of a weird summer for kids like Warren brothers Felix and Reuben Kretz.

The whole situation is weird, but Felix and Reuben say they don’t have much choice but to deal with it. And sometimes, that can be tough.

“I just wish things would go back to normal,” Reuben said. “It’s not enjoyable, 'cause I don’t get to do the things I used to do all the time.”

Felix, when asked if he felt the same, said, “Yeah, it is what it is. We can’t do anything about it.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.

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