Over the course of the last year, we have been listening to our donors and community to gain insight on how we can best meet needs that exist here in southern West Virginia. What we have learned is that we are able to elicit the most change when we take the time to get our hands dirty, talk to the folks on the front lines, and actually listen to them. This past week, our Executive Director Michelle Rotellini and Community Impact Coordinator Christina Cowley had the opportunity to visit with the Wyoming County Family Resource Network to learn about how they serve their county, and what we can do to help!
Liz Cochrane and Tina Acord met us Wednesday morning, despite their busy schedules operating the youth centers in Wyoming County, the Family Resource Center, and overseeing 8 AmeriCorps Summer Associates who assist the Board of Education with their Summer Feeding program. Upon entering the Youth Center in Pineville, we could see just how important this organization is to the community. Liz showed us the recreation area, where free dance classes, exercise classes, and arts and crafts are offered to community members. She also let us peek into the baby pantry housed at the FRC, which serves over 200 families per month. “Even when people are too proud to come here and ask, if we know a family is struggling we’ll leave this stuff on their porch,” Liz said. “We are all family here. When these kids are up late at night, messaging me on Facebook because they broke up with their boyfriend, or whatever is going on, I just can’t go to sleep without letting them know someone cares.” It is that attitude of love and kindness that anyone would be able to feel as soon as they met either Liz or Tina.
We discussed other programming the Family Resource Center implements, including collecting beautiful Prom gowns for students who otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to purchase an expensive dress for their school dances. They also work with SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions, to educate middle and high school students on how to be positive forces for their community. It is truly incredible how much these two women, along with their teams of volunteers, are able to do for the youth and families of Wyoming County!
After our discussion, Michelle and I were able to volunteer distributing food at 2 Summer Feeding sites: one in Brenton, and one in Mill Creek. Overall, we helped to distribute about 50-60 meals to children who otherwise might not have had a lunch that day. As soon as we pulled up to the first site and began to unload the food, children started arriving carrying backpacks which they could carry their food in. Many showed up barefoot, having walked down the street and across the road to reach us at the Feeding Site. These are the faces of the children who sit in class next to your kids, that sit in the pew in front of you at church. Only 1 in 6 children that are eligible for free or reduced priced meals at school participate in the USDA’s Summer Feeding program, meaning that 5 in 6 either do not have access to the feeding sites or don’t know about it. To us, that’s a problem.
At the United Way, it has become one of our goals to improve the Summer Food Service Program coverage in southern West Virginia, and it was quite powerful to see that program in action this week in Wyoming County. Multiply the number of meals served at the sites we visited by 11 more sites, and you can see how much of an impact this program can have in a rural county like Wyoming. We are so grateful to have people like Liz Cochrane and Tina Acord, as well as countless others, working towards solutions to our community’s problems.
The Wyoming County Family Resource Network meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 12noon at the Wyoming County DHHR. If you are interested in how you can become involved in the meaningful work of this organization, you can call them at (304) 202 – 0357. Stay tuned for more information on how we partner with the Wyoming County FRN and how you can get involved!