BUCKHANNON – Citizens recently convened to discuss the future of what the mayor of Buckhannon called Upshur County’s most valuable asset – its youth – last week at a small town hall meeting.
The Youth Engagement town hall meeting took place at 6 p.m. Monday, March 27 in the Community Training Room of the Public Safety Complex. The meeting kicked off with several selections performed by the B-U SoundWaves, a select ensemble of the concert choir at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, which is under the direction of Jeremiah Smallridge.
Mayor David McCauley praised Smallridge for his involvement with the musical group, saying that if more students were involved in a similar manner, there would be no need to meet about ways to engage the youth in the community. McCauley did, however, express disappointment at the low turnout to the meeting, contrasting it with past town hall meetings, which centered on the city’s acquisition of the Colonial Theatre and the role of police and firefighters in the community.
Observing that there were only about 20 people in attendance Monday night, McCauley remarked, “On our single most important valuable asset, we seem to miss the mark. I’m a little flummoxed by not having a bigger turnout, and I apologize for that but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a very meaningful first exercise because this is the first in a series of dialogues about how we can better engage and connect our kids in the community to positive things.”
McCauley went on to observe the age at which the problems typically spring up.
“Our problem is not so much with the kids ages 5-12,” McCauley said. “We have pretty good engagement with the little ones. The problems happen when they become middle school and high school-aged.”
On an unrelated note, McCauley said he also wanted to thank Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Roy Wager and the Upshur County Board of Education for its donation of an old school bus that will now serve as the Stockert Youth Center’s new bus.
“We want to thank the Upshur County Board of Education for the gift of the new/old Stockert Youth Center bus,” McCauley said. “It’s out in the parking lot and paint’s being ordered.” Wager, who was also on hand at Monday’s meeting, said the BOE had been pleased to be able to make the contribution. He also briefed meeting attendees on youth involvement in high school sports and other extracurricular activities.
Debora Brockleman, executive director of the Stockert Youth Center, also attended Monday’s meeting to update attendees on youth involvement in programs at the center. Brockleman said that on an annual basis, the Stockert Youth Center logs 28,000 to 29,000 youth involvement hours.
“We have other counties who model their after-school programs after ours,” Brockleman said.
She highlighted the importance of the SYC’s youth basketball program, which offers a recreational league for ages kindergarten through 12th grade.
“It’s something constructive for them to do if they’re not on a school team,” she said. “They have an outlet.”
The SYC also offers other popular programs, including a drill team and tutoring programs. The building is used, too, for Zumba, yoga and kickboxing classes as well as for community meetings, Brockleman said.
Following a short break, meeting attendees gathered into one group to perform a SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – analysis regarding youth engagement in the community. Under strengths, members highlighted the Stockert Youth Center and the city; school programs/activities; knowledge of what the issues are in the community; the fact that Buckhannon is a college town; and youth sports programs.
However, they felt the community’s weaknesses included Upshur County’s rural geography; the obesity epidemic; a lack of training to meet employers’ needs; a lack of effective communication; apathy; not enough understanding of motivations; and educational alienation.
Opportunities identified by the group were the fact that Buckhannon is a value-centered community; officials have the ability to tap into resources from WVU, including professors; the development of youth leaders; partnering with 4-H for special interests; finding positive engagers; staging an activity fair; and mentorships.
Threats noted were the drug epidemic; technology; bullying; and the costs of some extracurricular activities, which prevents poorer families from enabling their children to engage in activities.
Future meetings to discuss the topic of youth engagement will be planned.