Nonprofits to study countywide afterschool program

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The Healthcare Foundation of Wilson will fund a six-month planning and evaluation study to explore the feasibility of a new afterschool program designed to positively affect the lives of middle school students in Wilson, officials say.

The study will be led jointly by Healthcare Foundation of Wilson and Wilson 20/20 Community Vision. Officials said the funding is the first step in a strategic initiative that is part of the foundation’s shift in focus to invest a larger percentage of funds in proactive, collaborative work to support sustainable opportunities.

The foundation will continue to operate the grant cycle each January for organizations to apply for grant funding.

“Our focus on strategic initiatives is an effort to make a meaningful impact in our community over a longer period of time,” said Denise O’Hara, Healthcare Foundation of Wilson executive director. “The middle school age is one of the biggest opportunities to make a difference for youth — to steer their lives and help them begin to make decisions that will benefit them over their entire lifetime.”

Officials said the scope of the proposed program aligns with the Healthcare Foundation’s four priorities, which are primarily focused on youth, and include obesity prevention, adolescent pregnancy, alcohol and substance use and sexually transmitted diseases.

The planning and evaluation process will focus on determining the most viable, sustainable plan for a program to help keep preteens and early teens on positive pathways, officials said. The proposed coordination of afterschool programs will provide opportunities during out-of-school time with a focus on quality programs designed to enrich participants physically, emotionally and academically, officials added.

While most elements of the program will not be determined until after the study is completed and determined to be viable, the Healthcare Foundation invited several Wilson-based project partners to be part of the evaluation process and participate as primary resources.

The city of Wilson plans to provide a central site for the program’s future home. The Wilson Family YMCA plans to manage and help analyze the program by leveraging regional and national YMCA resources and expertise. Wilson County Schools plans to provide advice on program content as well as the space needed.

“Through strong partnerships with so many organizations in Wilson, we have experienced the benefits of community partners working together for common goals,” said Paula Benson, executive director of Wilson 20/20. “Collaboration is particularly important in effective youth programming, and we feel certain the planning process will provide an opportunity for us to make sure we are planning the right opportunities, in the right way, at the right time for our youth.”

The future home, including location, building and space needs, will be part of the planning study, officials said. Many variables will go into the determination of the best location to serve middle school students’ needs.

Throughout the study and planning process, the team will examine other successful programs throughout the country and will survey parents, teachers and students to determine program content interests. The team will also evaluate community resources and conduct a full financial analysis to ensure the program’s long-term sustainability, officials said.

The total cost of the proposed program is unknown at this time and will be determined during the planning and evaluation study, Healthcare Foundation officials said. But the foundation will fund up to $100,000 for the six-month planning and evaluation study.