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Healthcare Foundation of Wilson plans $22M after-school program

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The Healthcare Foundation of Wilson is committing $22 million to launch an after-school program for Wilson County middle-schoolers.

“By making this investment in our first strategic initiative, we believe we can maximize the positive, direct impact our funding has on health outcomes to help move the dial on serious concerns for today’s youth, who are also the future of our community,” said Vance Forbes, the foundation’s board chairman.

Officials say the approved funding is for a strategic initiative to create a new after-school program. Its future site will be in a centralized location.

The $22 million grant includes planning and building of a space for youth as well as transportation support to increase access to activities and quality programs, according to foundation leaders.

The program will be designed to enrich the lives of middle school students physically, emotionally and academically during out-of-school time.

In March, the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson announced its intent to study the feasibility of a new after-school program for middle-schoolers. More than 1,700 middle school students and more than 500 parents and community members provided feedback during that planning and evaluation process of the study, which was jointly led by the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson and Wilson Forward, the group formerly known as Wilson 20/20.

Officials said youth interests and possible barriers to participation were key findings. Those findings will also help drive the next steps of planning and collaboration for the initiative.

COLLABORATION AND POSITIVE PATHS

Several project partners are working to solidify next steps including the program’s location, facility needs, necessary program resources and expertise.

The city of Wilson plans to provide a centrally located, easily accessible site for the after-school program’s future home, officials said. The Wilson Family YMCA will manage and sustain the program. Organizers will also utilize regional and national YMCA resources and expertise, officials said.

Wilson County Schools also plans to provide office space in the six public middle schools to house grant-funded project coordinators on site to assist with logistics and communication with youth, families and educators.

“We are excited about partnering to provide important and unique experiences available to all middle school students, which can help them choose positive paths that will benefit them over their lifetime,” said Denise O’Hara, Healthcare Foundation of Wilson executive director. “The opportunities for prevention and positive health outcomes are significant at such a critical age for youth, and our program partners are committed to doing what it takes to provide high quality, effective after-school programs.”

POSSIBILITIES FOR LOCAL YOUTH

Officials said collaboration has been and will continue to be key for the successful development and sustainability for the after-school initative.

“We are grateful for Wilson Forward’s early role in this initiative, which has been instrumental in building strong partnerships and momentum,” O’Hara said. “Wilson Forward’s approach puts collaboration at the core of everything, and that mindset is important as we all work to improve our community’s health and wellness.”

The program’s scope and goals align with the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson’s four funding areas, which include the prevention of obesity, adolescent pregnancy, alcohol and substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, officials said.

“We’ve learned a lot about what our community youth want and need, and the list includes a variety of both team and individual fitness opportunities, career exploration, hands-on learning with computers and technology, cooking classes, painting or drawing, tutoring and homework help,” O’Hara said. “We are eager to provide our local youth with activities of interest, opportunities to improve their health and wellness and experiences that can lead them in directions that they possibly have never even imagined.”

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