Fire provides new spark for youth program
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 5, 2004 1:09 PM
The fire that drove the Wayne County Youth Outreach Program out of the Community Building gave the agency a new lease on its life -- literally.
After the May 2 fire that destroyed the downtown landmark, Daryl Woodard, executive director of Youth Outreach, said a lot of good has come in spite of the loss.
The building housed the program for 15 years. Records of many of the accomplishments during that time went down in the blaze. What files and equipment weren't burned were damaged by water and smoke.
"For the most part, the stuff was just destroyed," Woordard said. "Plaques, pictures with Gov. Hunt, pictures of activities with kids, personal pictures."
Instead of dousing any hopes for the program that has served more than 200 youths in Wayne and Wilson counties, Woodard says, a spark was generated.
"The faith community and the community at large have really stepped up to the plate," he said.
As a testament to that, he said, the very next day after the Sunday afternoon fire, he was offered a new place to set up shop.
"Goldie Smith, a former board member who had worked at RBC Centura Bank, said we could have the whole second floor" of the bank's office at 201 E. Ash St., he said. Not coincidentally, he says, the administrators had been looking for a nonprofit organization to take up residence there. The bank offered to lease the space. The youth program moved in May 24, and it has become the permanent home.
Woodard said that even before the smoke from the fire had cleared, he got a sense that things would work out.
"It was really the Lord that opened all the doors," he says.
His wife, Shawan, also a program director, surveys the new offices now and says, "All this was waiting up here for us."
"That gave me peace of mind when I saw the Lord putting it all together," says her husband.
The new location features five offices and a conference room, allowing the 12 full- and part-time staff members to spread out a little. Carpet has been donated by a local distributor, and there has been an outpouring of support, financially as well as manpower and words of encouragement.
Youth Outreach is a program that matches children and youths with adult mentors. The adults commit to spend a given amount of time with their proteges each week.
Goldsboro Mayor Al King proclaimed May 27 as Wayne County Youth Outreach Program Day, which also helped lend support to the recovery mission.
Woodard said people would initially approach him and say they had hesitated to call after the fire because they were unsure if anyone was there.
"We didn't close our doors because of the fire," he said. "We will still have the programs."
He said that at first, he worked from home and by cell phone, while the mentors, volunteers and board members continued to labor without missing a beat.
"The fire was an inconvenience," he said, "but the services never stopped one day."
He said board members have been getting the word out and soliciting donations. RBC banks across the state also continue to accept donations for the program's recovery fund.
Beyond material things, though, Woodard said the messages from the community have been priceless.
"We want the people to understand that it's not just contributions of money," he said. "People letting us know that they're going to be there for us and we're going to be there for them, that's going to encourage us to be around for another 15 years and beyond."
He admits there have been difficulties, especially since the organization had no insurance.
"Nobody expected that a whole building would burn down," he said.
But because of the groundswell of local support, the state took note and lent more support than is typical.
"When you're getting state and federal funds, they just don't give you money," he said. "But because of the strong collaboration that we have established in Wayne County with nonprofits, individuals and the faith community, it was seen and demonstrated, and we have been able to get continued support from the state."
He said his youth programs will be bolstered by the money that the state offered. It will provide six new computers and other equipment.
Woodard says modern technology will also help in the rebuilding process.
"All of the information we had was sent to Raleigh," he said. "Hard copies and files are gone, but at least the information that was sent, we don't have to start totally from scratch.
"Now we just have to let them know, they can e-mail it and we can restore it."
The new fiscal year started July 1. Woodard says he wants this year to be the best in the program's history.
The summer youth program is in session, and the main adjustment has been to collaborate with schools and churches for gymnasium space.
At the top of the needs list now is a new slate of volunteers. A training session is planned for mentors willing to give two hours a week to be a mentor for a youth between the ages of 7 and 17.
The training will be held at Wayne County Public Library on July 17 from 9 a.m. until noon.
A Youth Gospel Fest, the only event postponed because of the fire, is expected to be rescheduled for later this month. Church youth choruses are invited to call the program office at 735-0008 for information. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And an open house is being planned so that the public can visit the new offices.
"We're trying to provide the best quality services," Woodard says. "We're not in competition with any other agency.
"We know what our niche is, and we try to be able to meet every need that that child may have."
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