THE INTER-MOUNTAIN - A new after-school program at the Phil Gainer Community Center, in its first year, is seeing dozens of students daily and is looking toward additional growth.
ENGAGE Afterschool is a program geared toward Elkins Middle School students and provides activities as well as assistance with schoolwork.
Chris Lee, the Phil Gainer Community Center facility manager, said while the program is only seeing roughly 25 youngsters each school day, not all students come five days a week.
“On average we have 20-25 students attending daily,” Lee said. “That said, there are 62 registered middle-schoolers who attend the program. There are some students who attend every day — but many more who come once or twice a week.”
The program offers a wide variety of activities that keep students active, engaged and having fun. There is also a lounge at the facility where students can relax with friends.
“There is a smorgasbord of activities available to participants on a daily basis. Upon their arrival, the kids decide – at their own volition – if they would like to work on homework, participate in some kind of sports activity, create art, or just hang out with their friends in the lounge, where they can play pool, foosball, board games or Playstation 4,” Lee said. “It’s been great to see kids participate in a variety of different activities on a daily basis. One thing I have not heard from the kids is ‘I’m bored.’ And in this day and age, I count that as a great success.”
He said several different special programs are helping students broaden their horizons and try activities they may not have the opportunity to do otherwise.
“Special programming we’ve arranged for participants has included cooking classes, folk dancing lessons and even a special performance by the D&E Appalachian Ensemble,” Lee said. “It’s always great to hear from people in the community that would like to lead an art project or teach a music lesson – or just shoot some hoops with the kids. I would like to encourage anybody that would like to get involved with the program to contact me directly.”
Lee added the program has already seen success, not even half way into the school year.
“I am thrilled at the early success of ENGAGE Afterschool. In our first few months of operation, I’ve witnessed kids get excited about new things, overcome difficult homework assignments, learn how to play piano and interact with other kids that they normally would not,” he said. “That said, I believe the high point is that on a daily basis — with lots of encouragement from our incredible D&E work study and intern staff — these kids are not only trying new activities, but they are stepping outside of their comfort zones.”
Program officials hope to use the successes of the first year as a jumping off point and would like to see similar programs expand into other communities within the county.
“The sky is the limit for ENGAGE Afterschool. I do believe that we have started something that will have a long-lasting positive impact on the Randolph County community. This year we will strive to create more relationships in the community for the benefit of the children,” Lee said.
“When choosing the program name, we felt ENGAGE not only communicated our goal to engage participants in enriching activities that they may not otherwise participate in — but also to communicate that this program can become a strong medium for the many different groups and organizations in our area to engage with a specific demographic of youth that has generally been ignored for many years.
“In a perfect world, I would love to see funding increase over the years to the point where the defining principles of ENGAGE Afterschool are able to benefit the youth everywhere in Randolph County through ‘satellite’ locations in Mill Creek and Harman,” he continued.
The program, which is free to attend for all middle school youth, is presented by Elkins Parks and Recreation, Davis & Elkins College, the Randolph County FRN, the city of Elkins and the Randolph County Commission, with support from individuals and organizations within the community.
“We’ve said it from the beginning — ENGAGE Afterschool is the product of community collaboration to benefit the future of our community. Without the support of Davis & Elkins College, we would not have the finances to staff the program,” Lee said. “Without allocations from the city of Elkins and Randolph County Commission, we wouldn’t have any budget.
“Without the support of volunteers – local musicians, artists, chefs and educators – we would not be able to provide the special programming that is such a strength for the program. Without the private donations, we would not have the ability to keep the art room in stock — or have a teen game lounge,” Lee continued.
“Every single person and individual that has supported ENGAGE Afterschool plays a very unique role in its success. I cannot thank these individuals and organizations enough for not only their support, but for having the wherewithal to understand the program’s potential value in the community.”
Parents who are interested in enrolling their child or children into the program, which runs from 2:40 to 5:30 p.m. each weekday (unless there is an early dismissal), are urged to contact Lee or find registration forms at www.philgainercommunitycenter.com.
“The forms are also available during regular hours at the Phil Gainer Community Center — or can be picked up at the Middle School from Mr. Mike White, ENGAGE supervisor,” Lee said. “I’d also be happy to answer any questions. Just call me at 304-591-1410.”