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Brian Randall knows how vital it is to foster passion, opportunity and growth for youths to become successful. And it’s one of the reasons the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson, in partnership with the Wilson Family YMCA, recently hired him to help develop its first strategic initiative in creating an after-school program for all Wilson County middle schoolers.
“It’s a pretty incredible strategic initiative,” said Randall, who is the after-school network developer for the Wilson Family YMCA. “This community is really invested in doing something amazing.”
Last year, the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson announced its $22 million commitment to launch the project, which will be specifically designed for middle school youth ages 11 to 14. The after-school network will bring in various community partners that will offer engaging and hands-on programs for those youth at a new YMCA location.
The site hasn’t been announced yet, but officials say it will be in a centralized location. The city of Wilson will provide a site for the new YMCA building. The YMCA will also serve as the hub for the after-school program and will lead and sustain it.
“This is a program that we really believe can make a difference for our community,” said Denise O’Hara, the foundation’s executive director. “Middle schoolers can make decisions that can change their lives. As a result of that, our board started looking at that and what programs we could bring in that would have a huge impact to our community. We are excited about it.”
The program will also provide transportation from all six Wilson County middle schools to the site location. The program is slated to begin in August 2022 and will also focus on students’ health and wellness.
Kathie Davis, Wilson Family YMCA executive director, said it’s a true partnership among the Healthcare Foundation and YMCA in creating the after-school program.
“The city is also a partner as well as the school system,” Davis said. “We are all working together. The YMCA will serve as the hub for the program, but there will be a whole network of providers.”
HEART AND SOUL
O’Hara said the foundation board began working in 2016 to determine what its first strategic initiative would be, and that included a lot of research and site visits to similar programs including Asheville’s In Real Life after-school program where Randall was the co-director.
“It was a model that kind of fit what they were looking for,” said Randall, who is also an educator. His role in Wilson will include helping formulate the program here in creating the structures that will bring the community together to look at getting the after-school program off the ground and running.
“Where we really have to start in Wilson is to figure out what we want this environment to be. What opportunities are we going to create for these kids to discover their strengths and explore their passions?” said Randall, who has been meeting with key stakeholders throughout Wilson as well as talking with middle schoolers on what they want in a program.
“The heart and soul of this is it’s for all middle schoolers in Wilson,” he said, adding that it will take a community-wide partnership to make it happen.
Last year, the foundation surveyed more than 1,700 middle school students in Wilson County and more than 600 parents, teachers and grandparents to determine program needs, opportunities for growth and the ability to achieve their goals as well as outcomes.
O’Hara said when the foundation began researching its first strategic initiative, staffers saw gaps and barriers for middle schoolers who are at the ripening age where decision-making is key.
Research shows after-school programs work when it comes to being a positive influence on children’s lives.
About 11.3 million school-age children are alone 20 to 25 hours per week after school, according to the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. Of those children, 2.2 million are in middle school.
O’Hara said organizers’ goal is to make the program available to all middle school students in the Wilson community.
“We need kids to know they are loved for who they are, and we need kids to know they need to love other people no matter who they are,” Randall said. “You can do that in so many amazing ways in these inclusive environments.”
The program will feature innovative spaces for learning, including a kitchen, science lab, makerspace and art room. Qualified after-school staff and community members will be hired to lead the programs.
A NETWORK OF PARTNERS
Randall has also been meeting with other after-school program providers in Wilson.
“They are absolutely a critical part of this and designing it because they know the children of Wilson, they know the families of Wilson,” he said. “It’s not a program competing against other programs. It’s a network that draws upon the strength of everybody else.”
Middle schoolers will have an opportunity to go to various programs in Wilson from a centralized location, officials said.
O’Hara said more details will be revealed as organizers continue to develop the program.
“But knowing that the program is set up to serve as many kids who want to attend is our goal,” she said. “Developing the program in the right way is key to making it successful.”