SIT graduate alum Libby Bennett uses a global mindset to help her local community

May 30th, 2024   |   Alumni, Careers, Peace Corps, SIT Graduate Institute

Headshot of Libby Bennett.

In March, Libby Bennett was named executive director for Groundworks Collaborative, a Brattleboro, Vermont-based organization working to create solutions to hunger and homelessness in the region.

Bennett describes Groundworks as a local organization that meets basic human needs with dignity. As a food, shelter, and supportive services agency, every project is approached through a filter of dignity, envisioning a community where everyone has a safe place to call home.

“What’s special about Groundworks is our people,” she said, beaming with pride. “Anyone who works at Groundworks knows that we all really care about each other.”

Bennett was born and raised in Brattleboro, where SIT’s campus sits. After attending Smith College in Massachusetts and then serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, she returned to Vermont looking to pursue a graduate degree.

"SIT is a really great place to try out new ideas and look at examples from around the world of how things can be done better."

SIT’s Graduate Institute was a perfect fit. She could earn her master’s in nonprofit management full-time while living in her hometown—immersed in a community that was both local and global.

“Everywhere I've lived in the world, people knew SIT,” Bennett said. “People knew Brattleboro because of SIT and World Learning, so it was fun to be back in Brattleboro and still be part of a network of people from all over the world.”

Bennett pursued the service leadership and management track, which allowed her to build a foundation of skills in non-profit management while also focusing on social justice courses.

SIT’s global approach to programming aligned with Bennett’s personal vision, who described herself as having a global mindset as she transitioned from the Peace Corps to her graduate studies.

“I came into the program with this understanding that we need to look outside our own communities for best practices and that we have a lot to learn from people in other parts of the world,” she said. “And I wanted to prepare myself for a career where I could take my skills anywhere in the world. Knowing that there was potential to connect into SIT’s global network was a really important decision factor for me.”

Eighteen people on a stage pose around a sign that says "TEDx SIT."
Bennett and her SIT cohort during an on-campus TEDx event.

That network would be crucial for Bennett’s trajectory. For her practicum and capstone project, she worked at Community Action, a collective of Vermont agencies serving those with low to no income in the region’s communities, and Morningside Shelter. The latter would eventually merge with Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center to become Groundworks Collaborative─one organization serving those experiencing homelessness in Brattleboro.

Bennett, along with fellow SIT alum Josh Davis, was instrumental in that merger. Their history of working collaboratively was invaluable when Bennett took over as the executive director of Groundworks—the role previously held by Davis himself.

“We spoke the same language having both come out of the same program, and he also had Peace Corps experience. We just really fit together as a team and as a result, I felt well prepared for this new role at Groundworks.”

Bennett acknowledges that the work is challenging and referenced an especially hard and sad period a year ago when one of their coordinators was fatally assaulted. While the community reeled from the tragedy, Groundworks continued to operate to ensure that the basic needs of the community were met.

“We’ve been through fire together, and we rely on each other in a lot of ways, large and small, every single day,” Bennett said. “This team is just the most incredible and supportive group of people.”

While serving at the helm of Groundworks, Bennett is eager to dive into new projects, including plans to replace the Morningside shelter with a newly designed building. The space will provide more shelter beds and services to the community. She hopes to break ground on the building by next spring.

"I wanted to prepare myself for a career where I could take my skills anywhere in the world. Knowing that there was potential to connect into SIT’s global network was a really important decision factor for me.”

When considering her academic background in relation to her new role, Bennett appreciates SIT’s approach to skills learning and the global network that comes with it.

“SIT is a really great place to try out new ideas and look at examples from around the world of how things can be done better,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily expect to stay here in my hometown, but it’s served me well. If not Brattleboro, certainly anywhere you end up in the world, you’re going to be very well-served by having an SIT education.”