The summer is coming to a close to the dismay of students everywhere, but for those who participated in New Vision’s Prevention Works, it was a summer of success, fun, and education. Prevention Works, New Vision’s employment training and drug use education program, had 16 students participate this year. Those students graduated the program on Friday, August 4th at a ceremony held behind the Epicenter on Chestnut Ridge, on a concrete pad many of the students helped pour and lay bricks for. The ceremony had the dual purpose of honoring the students for their hard work and participation as well as lifting up the Barbour County Strutters and Dance team, fresh from national victories. One of the Prevention Works students was part of the championship winning team, so she was embarrassed by attention twice in one night. People from all over Barbour County came to celebrate these teenagers’ efforts and many brought dishes for a potluck. Carla Skidmore of Freedom Bank gave a speech on first impressions, which one of the students should have heard prior to taking the stage in a sleeveless top to accept his certificate. It was a lovely evening that ended with a dance performance and many of the students helping in cleaning up before throwing dodgeballs at each other.
As part of their employment training, by the end of week 2, all the students, coached by visiting carpenters with mission trip groups, were proficient in hammer usage. They put those hammers to use both in building a deck and in building out the second floor of the Epicenter in an area that will eventually become the bathrooms. A barn near Grafton was deconstructed for additional lumber and many of the students took part in de-nailing boards or preparing that lumber to be used. Thin concrete siding for the second floor was painted and concrete blocks were laid, with students learning how to make “mud” as well as how to slap it on blocks to build walls. Visiting the Epicenter gives you a clear indication of how much work the students did as the improvements and extensions make it clear. The group also got some basic gardening work in, planting cucumbers and flowers and laying down mulch. The last Wednesday of the program, the Prevention Works students had a canoeing trip to relax and enjoy, though some students would say it was harder work than it looked.
Sam and Martha Christie, leaders of the program and youth pastors to most of the students, also used some time this summer to prepare the Prevention Works group for joining the workforce. Sam, a noted fan of Shakespeare, had the students read monologues to work on clarity of speech and enunciation. Martha and Sam also ran games to improve eye contact, important in communication. The students took part in practice job interviews and had discussions on honesty as well as the importance of being F.A.T., Flexible, Adaptable, and Teachable in jobs. Finally, many of the participants created their first drafts of their resumes. The Christies seriously emphasized that while the students are young, they would be in a position to join the workforce and the better you are at communication and the better your resume looks, the better your chances are.
Prevention Works 2023 had guest speakers at every lunch, provided by Rachel Curkendall and Kelly Koonce, to engage the students in thinking more about their health and their futures. Eddie Vincent, now superintendent of the Barbour County Board of Education, invited the students to discuss education and the issues in the community they saw. Scott Baker from Prevention Solutions WV and David Strait, County Commissioner and Clinical Director, both took time to educate the youth on drug use and abuse and the dangers in substances as well as the benefits of healthy living. Dr. Casey Jo Cottril of the Brandon Wellness Center encouraged the students to pursue stress relief strategies and coached them in some basic exercise to improve mental health. Crystal Replogle, a Youth Service Placement Specialist from HRDF, had the students play bingo and engage each other in conversation. She also had prizes for those who won the games, which may or may not have played a part in her being some of the students’ favorite speaker. David Christie, Sam’s dad, and Stephen Iwunor, a father of three of the students, gave talks on finances and wise financial decision making. Kennth Lake, Lexi Taylor, and Stephanie Reed, all gave talks on career options and skills that make applicants stand out. As representatives from a job fair company, the Randolph County Housing Authority, and the FBI, they would know. Lastly, Josh Allen, the Community Engagement Specialist from Barbour Community Health Association, also described his role and the Bright Futures anti-drug coalition. He invited the students to join if they felt concern and to have a voice in changing Barbour for the better.
The students who joined the Prevention Works crew didn’t just join a summer job, they found a community. Almost every single student comes back on Mondays and Fridays for the community volleyball team and youth group. They saw people and heard jobs that they’d have no contact with. They learned skills that improved their communication, work ethic, and financial ability. The point of the Prevention Works program is to improve the ability of the participants to get hired, and judging by how many students have gone through the program and taken better jobs (Lifeguard, Audra Park Associate, Dairy King), it is a successful program. Sam and Martha Christie will see how many of this year’s students will be heading on.