BUCKHANNON – The Stockert Youth & Community Center welcomed a new staff member this summer.
Michelle Harter, the new Activities and Volunteer Coordinator with the SYCC, is originally from Fairmont, but visited Buckhannon frequently growing up.
“I was raised in Fairmont, but my grandparents, uncle, aunt and cousins live here so I spent a lot of time here,” Harter said. “From the time I was five or six, summers were always spent here, lots of Strawberry Festivals.”
In 2002, Harter moved to Alaska but said she was always thinking of home.
“Probably six months after I moved away, I wanted to come home,” Harter said. “I’ve been trying for 17 years to get home, and I was finally able to get home to help with family duties, responsibilities and health issues; it’s better to be close to family.”
She said she immediately missed the climate of West Virginia and so far, what she misses about Alaska is Alaskan salmon.
“There are some misconceptions [about Alaska],” she said. “We do not all have sled dogs, we do not live in igloos, penguins are in the South Pole, and polar bears stay up north. I’ve seen the Northern Lights and they are beautiful, and I really do miss Alaskan salmon.”
She graduated from East Fairmont High School and then went to Glenville State College, where she started a major in education, but received a degree in history and went to work for the state of West Virginia as a historian.
“I still wanted to be a teacher, so I went to West Virginia State, back when it was just West Virginia State and I was signed up and had my placement for student teaching,” Harter said. “Life happened so I have everything that I need, except student teaching, to teach grades five through 12, to teach history, social studies, geography, all that stuff.”
She said that she ended up in North Pole, Alaska in 2002 where she got into substitute teaching.
“You don’t have to have a teaching certificate as long as you have bachelor’s degree, so I was a substitute teacher on and off for several years, and I got into coaching cheerleading,” Harter said. “Most recently, I was the Alaska Native Education Tutor at North Pole High School, which was part of a federal program.”
She said when she came home and heard about the opening at Stockert she wanted to take the opportunity to work in a similar environment again.
“I’ve always wanted to be in an educational type setting, not a daycare setting,” Harter said. “There’s such a lack of positive role models and encouragement and with my background being a cheerleading coach, and I’ve been a senior class sponsor before and just working with middle schoolers and high schoolers, there’s always a need. You have to want to be here, you have to want to do this kind of work.”
She said beginning her new job in the middle of summer camp was a little overwhelming, but her predecessor, April Small, had helped organize everything before she left.
“She had summer camp already pretty set,” Harter said. “I sort of stepped in and I started treading water, but she left me a life preserver. I got the chance to learn by how everything was already going because I believe that if it’s not broke, you don’t need to fix it. So I just sort of watched and got involved where I could with different areas to learn what they do, and it gave me a chance to think of what I want to do next summer.”
She said she is excited for the chance to get involved with the after-school program at Stockert, the primary focus of which is education.
“We don’t have as much time for activities because we don’t have all day, and homework is the first priority,” Harter said. “I always tell the kids, especially the ones in high school, ‘your education is the last and best free thing you will get in your life. Everything from here on out, you will have to pay for, whether it’s tuition, a time commitment, or something along those lines, but your education, your public education is one of those things that you must seize and jump on it and take full advantage of it.’”
Harter said some fall events SYCC has planned include the Children’s Festival Sept. 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m and Fall Festival Sept. 28 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.