New coalition seeks to unify youth resources in Upshur County

BUCKHANNON – A new community coalition hopes to partner with several local organizations to help the youth of Upshur County.

Susan Aloi, community engagement specialist for Community Care of West Virginia, and Don Nestor, a Stockert Youth and Community Center board member, spoke during the Aug. 16 Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce meeting to explain the goals of the Upshur Youth and Community Coalition.

“The mission is basically to unite different entities and organizations that are all working towards youth and community improvement in a way that will lead to positive growth and development,” Aloi said. “It’s to help develop synergy and avoid duplication of efforts, so the various entities can understand who’s doing what, how we can work together better and how this coalition might become a catalyst for doing larger, more sustainable projects and programs in the community.”

Members of the coalition include Upshur County Schools, Stockert Youth and Community Center, Community Care of West Virginia, Mountain CAP of WV, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Fred Eberle Technical Center.

“For one year I’m on loan half-time to this coalition to help get it organized, and one of the first things that I did was meet with all kinds of different people, asked questions, listened, and talked some more,” Aloi said. “I still have more to go, but the result of all of that was identifying three primary focus areas.”

Those include mental and physical wellness, technology applications and career readiness.

“Some of the ideas we’re thinking about in the area of mental and physical wellness include the new grant the schools just received for a Farm-to-School program,” Aloi said. “They’re going to be doing high tunnels at all or most of the schools, and the kids will be learning how to grow their own food and prepare their own food. They also got funding for a food truck to help deliver some meals and help people in out in the more rural areas, and they might be doing some like mobile cooking classes or at least nutrition ideas.”

Aloi also talked about engaging younger people and their families in physical activities, and possibly expanding SYCC programs to include more age groups and families.

One of the initial ideas for technology was implementing a help desk at Stockert to help kids and their parents with basic technology issues.

“I talked about coding classes — they’re doing some of this in the schools, but it would be good to have more of it available for at a younger age,” Aloi said. “eSports is also becoming more popular at the high school level and can be integrated at other levels. We need to find out from parents, grandparents, caregivers and the kids themselves what kinds of technology applications they would like to learn about and how we might help them do that.”

The coalition hopes to help prepare area youth for all kinds of careers and help them develop the skills that benefit a wide variety of vocations.

“This is not just a vo-tech focus, although we certainly need to do that, but this includes leadership development or soft skills development,” Aloi said. “So not just the content of what the career might be, but how to work with others, how to communicate, how to listen, how to organize a project. We’ve talked about the business plan competition — there’s a high school level business plan competition, but some states are moving it down to middle school kids, and we could bring some of that to Stockert.”

Nestor said the idea for the coalition started with SYCC.

“[Director] Deborah Brockelman and I were talking at one of our board meetings in January, and we were planning on building a new gymnasium and talking about raising some money, and we asked the question, ‘What are the real needs in Upshur County?’” Nestor said. “Is it an activity building or a gymnasium, or are there bigger needs out there with COVID and the quarantine and just things in general?”

Nestor and Brockelman set up a meeting with Dr. Sara Stankus, the superintendent of Upshur County Schools, which led to a meeting that included administrators at the middle and high schools, as well as Fred Eberle Technical Center. 

“We asked, ‘Do we need to adapt the [proposed SYCC] building a little bit to meet the needs of our students here in the county?’” Nestor said. “We got into the second meeting and started talking about the need to not only to have career planning, but maybe some catch-up with the loss in opportunities with virtual learning.”

The group decided to reach out to other community entities so they could coordinate and come up with a comprehensive plan to help the students of Upshur County.

“Our goal is just to try to help in some way to address the needs out there and to fit things together,” Nestor said. “We want to work together to help prepare students the best way we can so they can be successful.”

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