Working to make a difference
Representatives from three local non-profits, parents, and members of the community met last week in Marlinton to share ideas and address the issues of drop-out prevention and substance abuse in Pocahontas County schools. Family Resource Network executive director Laura Young said the FRN was recently awarded a grant through the West Virginia Department of Education to host the town hall meeting, the first in a series.
“We applied for a grant two years ago,” Young said. “It was just for drop-out prevention and how to mobilize the community around our kids. The first time we applied, we were not successful — but we were pretty close. They came back and told me that they wanted to talk to me about the grant application and work with me on it. They sent Shelly DeBerry from the West Virginia Department of Education and she spent a day going over the grant application. She gave me some ideas on ways to improve it, some things we hadn't thought of.”
Young said with help from the state agency, the $300,000 grant was approved the second time around in mid-October. The FRN didn't waste any time getting started.
“It's for $100,000 a year, for three years,” explained Young. “We've already instituted a mentoring program in the middle schools. We have Chris Bartley working in Green Bank. He's working with the sixth, seventh and eighth graders with the Walk-the-Talk Mentoring program. We also have Jean Srodes — she is at Marlinton Middle School doing the same program.”
Young said Bartley will also be working for the FRN as part of the grant as a community education coordinator.
According to Young, attendance, behavior and course performance were three things her group talked about Thursday evening. She said they also talked about different approaches to get residents and local businesses involved with drop-out prevention.
“We talked about ways the community might be able to help kids stay in school and get them excited about their education,” she said. “That's exactly what the grant was designed to do, to allow us to have these community forums and to decide what's going to work right here — on the local level — with our kids. One of the ideas that we had that the grantor particularly liked was to bring the kids out into the community and give them some service learning opportunities, getting them involved in maybe the food pantry or doing some mentorships at local businesses.”
Young said there were three different agencies that partnered for the project, the FRN and its staff, the United Way of the Greenbrier Valley, and the Pocahontas County Prevention Coalition. Cheryl Jonese, Prevention Coordinator with the Prevention Coalition, talked about the brainstorming session.
“Town hall, public forum, whatever you want to call it — the aim was twofold,” said Jonese. “We were here to talk about what we can do in Pocahontas County to increase the likelihood that our kids will stay in school and not drop out. The other part addressed substance abuse among our youth — tobacco, alcohol and other substances.”
Attendees were divided into two groups to discuss different approaches. Jonese said she was happy with the turnout, and she liked some of the suggestions she heard.
“I was really pleased,” said Jonese. “Any time you have a community forum and you get more than ten people — that's a success. We had a lot of input from different people, and a lot of them were good ideas I hadn't heard before. Two groups that I worked with actually both came up with different solutions.”
Young agreed that the first meeting was a success.
“I think it was pretty much perfect,” said Young. “When you have a forum, you can have too few people — where everybody sits around and doesn't share — or you can have too many, where everyone wants to talk and you get nothing out of it. I, personally, got a lot of really good information.”
Young said after the holidays, other meetings are planned to be held throughout the county.
“We'd like to take one of these to the high school to talk with kids and teachers there and just find out what they want,” said Young. “It will be a little different, but I think it'll be fun for the kids. It's going to be what we call a “Community Cafe.” We really need to know what the kids think, so we're just going to ask them candid questions and have them tell us what they think.”
Young said they also plan on holding similar meetings in the upper end of the county, in the Green Bank area or Durbin, and then maybe one in Hillsboro. Young encouraged parents and members of the community to attend.
“We really don't want this grant to be something we force on the kids and our school system,” offered Young. “We want it to be a partnership and we want input from the community.”