Teens making a difference: Wilson Youth Council plans open house

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When Theresa Mathis started as the Wilson Youth Council’s adviser 11 years ago, the group for area high school students was nearly extinct.

“When I started, we had five students from one school. It was on the verge of dissolving, and through the hard work of those students and the ones that came immediately after them, we changed the focus, the outreach and developed the council ideal to expand and involve all the high school students,” Mathis said. “From there, it practically doubled every year.”

This year, the philanthropic organization is starting with 75 returning students, and Mathis anticipates about 75 new participants in the next month or so. The youth council open house at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Wilson Operations Center, 1800 Herring Ave. E., will be a chance for parents and students to learn more from the mouth of current members.


“My favorite part about WYC is volunteering and seeing the immediate impact on the community,” said Nayeli Gomez, a 16-year-old junior at Fike High School. “I have gained a new love and appreciation for my community and the people in it.”

During the 2017-18 school year, the group had 130 students from all area high schools as well as home-schooled teens, representing all demographics. The group volunteered more than 7,000 hours, working on more than 30 community projects and helping during events such as the N.C. Whirligig Festival, Special Olympics and the Wilson Education Partnership’s adult spelling bee. The group’s efforts earned the title of Most Outstanding Youth Council in the state — the fifth time the group has received the honor in a decade.

“No other council out there has that record, and what the bottom line comes down to is what the students are doing and that is what makes the difference every year when the Raleigh office goes through the records and decides the winner,” Mathis said. “The feedback has always been about the work the students are doing. It is not about the flash or the money spent, but the hard work and dedication of the students to the community.”


“Being part of the youth council, you meet new friends and you feel happy helping others in your community,” said Jose Cisneros, a 16-year-old junior at Fike High School. Cisneros is the service project chairman for the second year in a row and works to recruit members to participate in volunteer projects.

Mathis said the group is trying something new this year because it has grown so large — so big it has actually outgrown the meeting space three times in recent years.

“For some people, a group of 150 teens is overwhelming, so we’ve added squads this year,” she said. “We’re hoping by using the squad system, we’ll create smaller groups for people to be more comfortable while being stronger together for volunteer opportunities.”

While some of the volunteer projects are annual events, others are new and organized by the teens themselves.

“I think the community would be surprised by how dedicated teenagers can be when given the right environment to give back,” Mathis said. “We do nothing but require more and more of them, and every year they step up to the plate and do more.”

In addition to the leadership and problem-solving skills learned while volunteering, the teens can participate in five conferences across the state with topics including service learning, team-building, college exploration, learning the legislative process and elections. The group is free to join with meetings twice a month, but participation in service projects is required. Search for @wilsonYcouncil or #wilsonYcouncil on social media or call Mathis at 252-399-2308 for more information.

“We find more and more colleges are looking for volunteer experience as they select whom to admit to their campuses,” Mathis said. “The youth council provides a wide variety of projects and development along the way. Anyone can volunteer here or there, but if a teen is really looking for an opportunity to grow, learn and develop their leadership skills — WYC is the place to be.”