It’s an unusually dark, chilly morning in Berkeley Springs. Officials from the Morgan County Partnership aren’t sure how many folks will brave the rain for their monthly breakfast.
But soon, a local church’s social hall begins to fill with the smell of coffee and the cheerful chatter of people happy to be there and anxious to get started. The rain continues outside but no one notices; group members are focusing instead on tomorrow.
They’re organizing a trip for the high school’s seniors, who will be graduating in just a few weeks, to a local elementary school.
It’s just a little thing, but it becomes a teachable moment.
“We want them to see that this the end result, this kind of success is what education is all about,” says partnership director Megan Hauser. Others began to suggest ways to make sure there will be a crowd of well-wishers on hand at the event.
In a matter of just minutes, a sign-up sheet is passed between tables so that people can commit to cheer on the graduating seniors visit the younger students.
The discussion turns nostalgic as they talk about earlier days and efforts to secure grant funding. Partnership executive director Kristin Willard laughed as she recalled the first time she’d been asked to get grant money for a LEGO lab.
“We got it because of our vision and we are still moving ahead. We have a team and the community working for our youth. It builds wonderful assets, and these kids feel really good about themselves about what they have accomplished,” she said.
Not surprisingly, the nonprofit’s mission is to help young people receive the support and skills needed to be safe, healthy and positive members of the community. They support programs like Too Good for Drugs/Violence, Morgan County Teen Court, and Parent Child Academy and Kids in Community Job Shadow and Mentor Program.
Primarily rural, Morgan County faces other socio-economic issues including a school system that provides free meals (lunch and breakfast) for all students and has an increasing number of children who are living in poverty. Enrollment has dropped so state funding has declined. Jobs aren’t plentiful and many local residents travel to surrounding counties—even states—to work.
It’s another example of how people are coming together in West Virginia to help each other.
People still care. It shows how much they are willing to do to improve the lives – and futures – of local youth.
Robotics have become increasingly important as schools focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) with other professionals and volunteers are leading the local charge.
West Virginia University Extension Service Agent for Community and Workforce Development Cindy Smalley has no doubt that young people will have better lives due to this high-tech exposure.
“My dream is for our kids to be able to get those new Procter&Gamble jobs that they say may pay $28 to $30 an hour,” Smalley said.
“That’s also why we are pushing robotics and working so hard with them, as well as so young,” she said. Thanks to grant funding, local kindergarten students will now also receive this exposure. Another grant would build on existing funding and educational opportunities.
“If we are awarded that the youth who are using it have an opportunity to get big scholarships at big schools for technology,” Willard said.
“This is part of the reason we have so many pleasant thoughts for our community, and because so many people are working to make a real difference here for our children – especially for our underprivileged youngsters who now have an opportunity to come to the table and turn their lives around,” she said.