Chamber Chat - Lee County Youth

May 28

By Meg Moss

Where will the leaders of tomorrow in Sanford and Lee County be nurtured, taught and developed? In a changing world, this community supports its youth in a variety of significant ways. This article pulls information from the Prelude to Progress, a six part series of stories produced by the Sanford Area Growth Alliance in conjunction with The Herald. This portion looks at a few of the organizations created to support our youngest citizens. When you think about helping young people prepare for a bright future, you immediately think of schools. Lee County Schools teaches the vast majority of local students — more than 10,000, in fact, each year — and have been posting some impressive results, including a graduation rate well above the statewide average. There are also vibrant private schools — Lee Christian and Grace Christian being two of the largest that combine to teach another 650 students. And over the last decade or so, many other agencies and organizations devoted to elevating young people have grown and flourished. Three of them — the Lee County Educational Foundation, the Lee County YMCA, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Carolina  — give some insight into how people across the community have united to give youth a strong foundation for success.

Recognizing that so many young people are shaped by the public schools, engaged citizens led by former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker of Sanford formed the Lee County Education Foundation 14 years ago. Its Head of Class project awards $50,000 annually to the faculty and staff of Lee County’s best performing elementary school. Bill Horner III, chairman of the foundation, says the award creates incentives for innovation and improvement and is the first program of its kind anywhere in the state. Business, industry and private donors have already contributed money to endow and fund the award. “We see the year over year improvement in the winning schools, so we know we’re making an impact.”

While the Lee County Educational Foundation makes its impact by working through elementary school teachers, other nonprofits work directly with young people. One of those, the Lee County YMCA, emphasizes character development through programs that “build healthy spirit, mind and body.” There are recreational facilities, after school programs, summer camps, and even two initiatives offered free of charge to children and their families. “Energize!” combines food and fitness to help families enjoy healthy lifestyles and avoid diabetes, and “Y Learning” provides after-school tutoring — complete with a certified teacher and snacks — for students performing below grade level. The Lee County YMCA purchased the former Sanford Nautilus facility last fall and is now completing renovations to expand its programming. Their ribbon cutting, open to the public, will take place on Monday, June 19th at 10:30 am.

Many of the same goals drive another well-known organization in Sanford with a particularly strong outreach to local youth. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central North Carolina provides recreational facilities and athletics that give young people a place to play in a safe and encouraging environment. The clubs also offer members a large menu of educational programs stressing literacy and academic success. Daniel Simmons, CEO of the local Boys and Girls Clubs, says the organization is designed to reinforce what members are learning at school. And it’s not designed to be members’ “parents,” but rather to serve in place of parents during critical hours when parents are at work and school is not in session. “While parents are working hard at their jobs, our staff are making sure that our club members have meals to eat, learning experiences, and the tools, opportunities and expectations to succeed in academics, in careers and in life,” Simmons said. “Our alumni tell us constantly how the club improved their lives.”

Many more organizations chip in as well, and all of them work together.  As economic and social change place even more pressure on families, the need to support young people will only grow. Groups across the area have already stepped forward to help by enhancing students’ educational achievement, developing their character and assisting parents. And that will surely give local youth an even better chance for success.

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