By Elly Murray
Western Youth Network (WYN), a wonderful non-profit organization that provides programs to support the youth of the High Country, just finished up their summer day camp on July 26th.
The summer camp is just one of the many ways that WYN upholds their mission statement, “To build youth of character and confidence so that every young person in the High Country reaches their full potential.” The camp provides tons of opportunities for kids to strengthen their social and leadership skills, and really challenge themselves.
Jennifer Warren, the executive director of WYN, thinks that this year’s summer camp went really well. She says, “It was really great. We had 44 kids in the program and they participated in things like white water rafting, visiting Wildcat Lake, entertaining donors during a talent show, and seeing a play at Lees McRae and a movie at ASU. They went on a ton of adventures…and had a blend of cultural and outdoor adventure based activities.”
WYN goes above and beyond to make sure that the summer camp is available to all families, even those who can’t afford to go. Warren says, ““We hear from parents all the time that there is a lack of affordable summer camp opportunities in our area. I think that WYN really wants to meet that need and we want to make sure that the fee structure doesn’t prohibit anybody from being able to participate.”
They offer a sliding scale of fees, starting at $125 per week and decreasing to $100 and $75 for students who are eligible for reduced or free lunches. Families can also apply for the Sonny Sweet Scholarship Award, which allows lower-income students to attend camp for free. Warren says, those students, “might not be able to come and experience those things in any other way, so it’s really important for us to make sure that it’s affordable.”
WYN wants to make absolutely certain that everyone can come, no matter what difficulties they may face. So, in addition to offering some students reduced or free camp, they also offer to come and pick the kids up from their homes.
Warren clarifies that, “It’s not a service that we provide for everybody, but for those who need it, either due to their work schedule or not having a functional car, or whatever the situation might be. In the summer program, we are able to go to the house, pick the child up, bring them here, and then take them back to the house at the end of the day. And then in our after school program, we actually go and pick up from the schools, bring them to WYN, and then if the kids need it we can take them back to their house at the end of the day.”
The summer camp program currently only serves rising 6th to 9th graders, but WYN is definitely looking to expand their age range, and help kids of all ages. Warren says that, “That’s certainly an area that WYN hopes to expand in in the years to come, because we want to be able to serve the elementary population as well as the high school population. So, expansion of our age range is definitely something we want to do over the next year or two.”
Once the school year starts up, WYN’s after school program will get underway. The after school program provides a fun and safe environment for kids to go to after school, where they can receive tutoring and exercise, eat healthy snacks, develop life skills, and form relationships with staff, volunteers, and other kids.
WYN also has a mentoring program available, which pairs kids ages 6 through 17 with a stable and nurturing adult volunteer. This person either eats lunch once a week with the child as their “lunch buddy” or meets up with them in the out-of-school hours in the community-based mentoring program. This program exists to provide a positive role model in the lives of kids who really need one, and most importantly, to let them know that someone cares about them and will be there for them.
Warren says that providing these kids with someone who cares about them is especially important because, “Research says that when people have experienced trauma, if they don’t have somebody who’s stable and nurturing to see them through that, then it can register as toxic stress in their brains. And that changes your brain architecture. So for kids, it may look like they are hyperactive, or impulsive, or unable to concentrate on academics, but it’s really possibly symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
She went on to say that, “For some who grew up with lots of support, it may be hard to conceive that a WYN staff member or volunteer might be the only person in that child’s life who give them hope—they might be the difference makers. They might go home at night and think, ‘Everything else in my life is chaos, but at least I have WYN.’ And we don’t take that lightly; we believe that what we do is life-saving in some cases.”
WYN also has their Festival of Trees coming up, November 29th-December 2nd. The event is open to the general population, and beautifully decorated trees and wreaths (with gifts included) will be on display at Chetola, in a brilliant display of holiday festivity. The trees and wreaths are themed, and Warren explains that, “For example, we might have a Footsloggers tree, and they would have lots of gear and gift certificates on the tree, making it a pretty valuable tree to have.”
People will bid on the trees through an online bidding software, and you don’t even have to be physically present to bid. And of course, if someone outbids you, you can continue to up your bid until the bidding closes on Sunday, December 2nd.
People can also come and look at all the cool trees for any amount of a donation to WYN. Warrens says that, “If you’re already out enjoying Chetola’s Festival of Lights, you can just come inside and walk through and enjoy at all the amazing Christmas trees and wreaths. It smells amazing in there, and we usually have hot chocolate, Christmas music, and various special events throughout the event. It’s just a cool way to really kick off the holiday season.”
Warren wanted to be sure to thank everyone who supports WYN and she says, “What we do depends on the support of our community, so without our donors and supporters, we wouldn’t be the flourishing agency that we are. We certainly appreciate all the community support that we receive.”
She went on to say that, “One of the things that we as an organization really want to see ourselves do, but also then everybody else in the community do, is treat people with compassion, and have strong, nurturing relationships with everybody we come in contact with, because it’s the thing that really heals people….That’s really who we strive to be at WYN–the people who have trusting, nurturing relationships with people, and the people who are movers and shakers in the community, and who are really trying to make change, for our kids and therefore, for the rest of the community.”