Justin Bowers, founding director of Appalachian Impact, a nonprofit seeking to build hope for at-risk youth in north-central West Virginia, poses for a photo by the Hampton Community Building. / Photo by Katie Kuba

A gala with a goal: Get your tickets for ‘A Night in Yellow’ today and help turn a Hampton-area building into a haven for at-risk youth

SAGO – When the sun rises at dawn, its yellow and golden-hued rays signify a new beginning and the possibility of hope for something better, however gray the day prior has been.

That’s why Appalachian Impact, a local nonprofit focused on instilling a sense of hope in at-risk youth in north-central West Virginia, has dubbed their first-ever gala ‘A Night in Yellow.’

A Night in Yellow Gala, slated to take place from 7-11 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16 at Oren + Folk, aims to raise money to renovate and repurpose a place where hope can blossom: the old Hampton Community Center.

Appalachian Impact’s founder/director Dr. Justin Bowers said all proceeds from A Night in Yellow Gala will benefit the renovation of the Hampton Community Center in Sago, which the nonprofit hopes to transform into the Hampton Hope Center.

“We dreamed up this event about a year-and-a-half ago,” Bowers said. “The event is called ‘A Night in Yellow,’ and we’re using the concept that the color of the sun is the color of hope. That’s what we’ve always been about. We feel like if a child is at-risk, the first thing they need is hope, some resilience, something that can help them say, ‘I can overcome this, I can keep moving.’”

A Night in Yellow is designed to be “a special evening of art, music, dancing, stories and more,” Bowers said.

Everyone is encouraged to dress up for the formal event, located at the picturesque Oren + Folk wedding and event facility about 10 minutes outside of Buckhannon. Not only will it feature music by Key to Adam for the first hour-and-a-half but also a live band playing dancing music so attendees can get down, Bowers said.

“We’re also going to have finger foods and desserts catered by The Outpost and Event Center-Daily Grind and drinks from Big Timber Brewing, Lambert’s Winery, and all the silent auction stuff you can imagine,” he said.

Both silent and live auctions will take place intermittently throughout with evening with auctioneer Aaron Harris inviting people to bid on a variety of fun, entertaining and useful prizes, including ski lift tickets to Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline; tickets to the WVU vs. TCU game on Oct. 29; a year’s worth of pest control; a seven-night stay in Mackinaw City on Lake Michigan; and much, much more.

“Probably the thing I’m most excited about is that there’s a couple of art teachers in the county that are working with their students around this theme of hope and yellow, and they’re creating artwork that we’re going to live auction that night,” Bowers said.

So, what’s Appalachian’s ultimate vision for Hampton Hope Center? The nonprofit worked out an agreement with the Upshur County Commission, the building’s former owner, late last year and took ownership of it in January 2022.

“We’ve always kind of had a dream of having a third space for youth, whether that’s a gym, a coffee shop, or whatever that is for people, and this just seemed like a really good fit if we can get it where we want it to be,” Bowers said.

Although Appalachian Impact initially operated under the umbrella of New Community Church where Bowers is pastor, it became its own separate entity about eight years ago.

“The vision is to build hope for at-risk students, and we’ve done that through one-to-one mentoring relationships, we’ve done that through summer camps, and we’ve done that through youth leadership cohorts, which I always describe as like an amped-up mentoring because it’s more time, it’s really focused on very specific career goals, personal goals, group goals,” Bowers said.

And while Bowers believes the Stockert Youth & Community Center does a stellar job of providing programming in town for younger kids, he’s frequently encountered middle school and high school students who are looking for a place to socialize and forge new friendships.

“The thing we run into over and over again is, we feel like Stockert does a phenomenal job, but they’re downtown, so they’re missing some of the farther ends of the county as most things do, and they tend to get, from our understanding, a younger population,” he said. “What I keep running into, especially being at the high school last year teaching, is these older students being like, ‘we’re dying for a space here in town,’ and so that’s kind of how that all came out.”

Bowers separates Appalachian Impact’s goals for the center into two main categories – basic necessities and “big vision stuff.” For instance, the building needs a hot water tank, bathroom renovation, and cleanup and painting.

The Hampton Community Center in mid-September.

“Then there’s big vision stuff,” he said. “We want to put a small stage in where we can host coffee houses, and open mic nights. The high school has a rock band class and we thought, ‘how cool would that be to have a place for those kids to perform?’”

Other eventual wish-list items include multipurpose seating (tables, couches, chairs), a pool table, a foosball table, and maybe even one day, a cappuccino and latte machine.

Upshur County Schools approved Appalachian Impact as a partner some years ago, and by 2019, it had roughly 20-25 active mentors trained who were partnered up one-to-one with students. But the COVID-19 pandemic soon put the kibosh on mentoring.

“We have kind of been ramping everything back up – from reconstituting the board to getting this building in January and then training mentors,” Bowers said. “We’ve had two trainings this year, and we have seven mentors trained; four are partnered and three are waiting to get partnered with a student.”

The nonprofit utilizes a positive youth development framework.

“Most models that we saw for a long time were centered on finding out what’s wrong, and ‘let’s fix it,’” Bowers said. “But what we’re trying to tap into is this framework that says theoretically, let’s find out where their strengths are and let’s create positive [programming] around that so that they thrive in areas. So, with this place, could be a space where someone could come in and teach youth photography, there could be art shows, it could be a place for musicians, or if someone wants to come in and teach knitting, that could happen here — whatever that looks like as long as we’re tying in students and giving them a space to belong, to connect, that’s really what we want this to be about.”

Only about 50 tickets are left for the gala, and you can buy yours or learn more about various sponsorships and ways to donate here.

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