The Walltown neighborhood is home to an array of valuable youth programming, but local leaders about two years ago noticed a gap that some Walltown kids were falling into.
“Some of the kids we knew when they were 5 or 6 weren’t making it to our high school program, because they got lost in middle school and ended up in a gang or prison,” said Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, director of Schools for Conversion and member of the Urban Hope Neighborhood Advisory Committee, both Walltown programs. “It seemed there was a need for a thicker sense of belonging, of family and community, for these kids during the crucial middle school transition.”
So Wilson-Hartgrove and the team at Urban Hope created The WAY, or Walltown Aspiring Youth. Through The WAY, teams of four or five middle schoolers are matched with a coach, who devotes about 20 hours per week to running afterschool programs for the kids and forming relationships and a support network among their parents, teachers, guidance counselors, ministers and other key adults.
Sam Miglarese, Duke University’s Director of Community Engagement, provided funding for the program from Duke’s Doing Good in the Neighborhood employee-giving campaign. He said it was an easy decision.
“Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs focuses its academic enrichment and youth development programs on critical points of transition, including middle school,” Miglarese said. “Supporting The WAY made sense not only because the program is perfectly aligned with our own priorities, but also because its work will directly benefit youth and quality of life in Walltown, one of our 12 partner neighborhoods.”
The WAY joins a roster of Walltown youth programs supported by Duke University’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, including Digital Connectors, Digital Durham, Rites of Passage and Walltown Children’s Theatre. Wilson-Hartgrove said he expects The WAY will benefit greatly from collaboration with those programs.
“One vision of the program is to use the great volunteer energy around Walltown’s community groups, local churches and other organizations,” he said, citing opportunities for Walltown’s many engaged residents to share their skills and experiences with The WAY participants. “It’s a very local and inter-connected operation.”
Currently The WAY serves one team of four Walltown middle schoolers, who are coached by Urban Hope volunteer and Durham Public Schools substitute teacher Dan Keegan. The hope is to have two additional teams in the Fall, bringing the total number of coaches to three and the number of kids served to between 12 and 15. Wilson-Hartgrove said he’s looking for coaches with connections to Walltown and a commitment to stay engaged at least until the youth graduate from high school.
For more information about The WAY, contact Wilson-Hartgrove at firstname.lastname@example.org.