In Dr. Wendy Winn’s Seminar in Professional Writing through ASU, students were able to write feature articles about nonprofit organizations around the High Country. This article is number three in a series of seven that raise awareness and push for the community to become involved, supportive and informed about the organizations around the area that continuously try to better the community. This article is by Taylor Cobb, and it centers around the Western Youth Network and how you, too, can become involved to help support the youth in our community.
Volunteer at Western Youth Network and Provide Hope for High Country Youth
By Taylor Cobb
“Growing up is hard, and it’s challenging for each of us in different ways,” says Wesley Berry, director of development for Western Youth Network. “What WYN provides is opportunities, and for local youth we give the opportunity to succeed.”
As the sole provider for after school care for Watauga middle school students, WYN and its volunteers invest and care so much for the cause, passionately encouraging others to join in on a worthy and a far-reaching investment in the future of our community’s leaders.
Beginning as Watauga Youth Network in 1985, WYN has since changed its name and now serves youth in Watauga and Avery counties, along with a five-county reach through its prevention programing. Measuring its reach through monthly and rolling reports, WYN’s mission is to build youth of character and confidence so that every young person in the High Country reaches their full potential.
“Our mission reflects the heartbeat of what we do here,” Berry said. “Overall, we affect around 2,400 kids. We meet a lot of different needs. It could be after-school care, educational resources, summer programing. Whatever a youth is in need of, we can typically provide.”
“We offer many more programs now, which is helpful in the community in the fact that we can offer a variety of youth-based programing.”
WYN offers two types of mentorship programs, the first being a traditional year-long pairing of an adult with a student. This mentorship maintains a weekly two-hour interaction between an adult and a student. The second mentorship program is a “lunch buddy.” In this program, an adult meets with their paired student for lunch once a week at the student’s school. The second, being less committal, it is a great starting point for volunteers to warm up to the program.
WYN’s after school program, also being the sole after school program for Watauga middle school students, offers not only education based homework time and tutors, but also cooking initiatives, which include education on healthy cooking, organic cooking and life and team building skills.
WYN also provides Prevention Programing through which WYN and its partners provide education and hope to target situations such as under age drinking and perscription drug abuse and hope to prevent the problem before it occurs.
“The prevention side has done tremendous work, in both creating a knowledge base and an education base for some of the challenges we face.” Berry said.
These prescription drug abuse and drinking initiatives that make up WYN’s prevention programs have led to shutdowns of local alcohol retailers and incentivized better awareness in local homes about access to alcohol.
“We’re seeing a reflection of that in the lack of use of those things by underage kids,” Berry said.
Prevention programing also includes a partnership with law enforcement in a group called Watauga Substance Abuse Prevention program (WSAP), as well as partnerships with community health initiatives, health fairs, and other projects.
“I love the logical and practical application of the programs here at WYN,” Berry said. “I also love that we are holistic, that we have prevention and intervention programs.”
However, these opportunities would not be possible without local support.
“We rely greatly on the community,” Berry said. “ We have lots of volunteers. That, can be anything from after school tutors, to mentors,and we have a variety of civic organizations that volunteer here. We get a lot of community collaboration on our prevention programs, and a large portion of our donor development is locally based.”
WYN’s funding , the majority of which is put right back into the community, also comes from local, state and federal grants, as well as individual, corporate and civic donors.
“Eighty-five cents of every dollar given to WYN goes right back into programing,” Berry said. “So we’re good stewards of what we get.”
WYN also hosts three fundraisers throughout the year, the first being its Annual Gala, where you can attend by purchased ticket, become a sponsor and could also donate to the silent auction. The second is the Festival of Trees, where you can sponsor and decorate a tree or wreath during December. The third is the Dance Marathon that was just held on Feb. 25, where you can register as a dancer, or sponsor a dancer in their 15-hour commitment.
WYN’s Dance Marathon, a partnered event with Appalachian State University, earned a little more than $39,000 this year to support WYN and the youth of the High Country. With a turnout of more than 200 dancers, it would be hard to deny how important this cause is to our community.
“On the programing side, WYN’s been around long enough now that not only do we service our youth, but we have a deep alumni base of people that have success stories after coming to the Western Youth Network,” Berry said.
These success stories are serving as inspiration to High Country youth and motivation for those working in WYN. Berry, who moved to Watauga during middle school and dealt with his own challenges transitioning, says he had a similar inspiration in middle school;
“My guidance counselor, Karen Robinson, was outstanding,” Berry said. “ I never forgot how she took a little extra time with a middle school student, and was definitely one of my influences in wanting to be here at WYN.”
WYN holds a special place in not only students lives, but also the community. The youth helped through WYN are our next generation, our next leaders, our next community members.
“It’s beneficial for the community to have solid youth growing up in the community, with these needs met and these opportunities given.” Berry said. “I love that I have invested in the next generation.You know if each of these kids succeed, then hopefully they carry that success to the generation behind them.”
The 13-person staff at WYN relays just how much people can do when they are working for a cause in which they truly believe. Ways in which one can get involved with this organization are: volunteering in one of many of the programs WYN offers, donating any dollar amount or supporting initiatives such as donating sporting equipment or helping around the WYN center with tasks like painting and cleaning. Whatever and however you can contribute, it will be greatly appreciated and helpful for the WYN staff and the children under their care.
With summer finally arriving WYN would be a great organization to become involved in. Many children in the High Country will be joining in the fun and adventure of WYN’s summer activities where they will learn a lot about life skills and teamwork. With so many students, WYN will need the community’s support to keep these programs running. Show how the High Country values teamwork and our students this summer by getting involved with WYN.
You can get involved and help strengthen our community by going to westernyouthnetwork.org and applying to volunteer under the “get involved tab”, or by calling 828 264-5174 for more information.