‘A brighter future for our youth’: After-school program will be housed at YMCA

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One of the main components of the Wilson Family YMCA’s move to downtown will incorporate an after-school program specifically designed for middle schoolers.

The city of Wilson’s Thursday announcement regarding a master development plan for the 100 block of Pine Street included the donation of a portion of the current BB&T towers site to the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson for the after-school network program and the Wilson Family YMCA’s future shared home.

“This gift to our community is an historical statement both in its broad scope and commitment to the youth of Wilson,” said Al Thomas, president of the Wilson Family YMCA. “We are inspired by the vision and foresight of the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson in identifying the need for after-school programs for middle school students and of the city of Wilson in securing such a wonderful location. The Y is excited to lead this initiative. The middle school program will be a foundational part of our mission in strengthening the community, helping develop our youth and encouraging healthy living.”


In 2018, the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson announced its $22 million commitment to launch the after-school program. The program will bring in various community partners to offer engaging and hands-on programs for middle schoolers at the new YMCA location.

The YMCA will serve as the hub for the after-school program and will lead and sustain it.

Leaders say the goal is to make the program available to all middle school students in Wilson County. The program will also provide transportation from all six Wilson County public middle schools to the YMCA’s downtown location. The program is slated to begin in August 2022.

“We are grateful for the city of Wilson’s support as a key partner that understands the importance of a centrally located place and space for after-school youth activities,” said Chris Hill, the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson’s board chairman and a Wilson County commissioner. “We appreciate their shared excitement about the beneficial outcomes for middle school students and the betterment of our entire community.”

The after-school program for middle schoolers is a strategic initiative of Healthcare Foundation of Wilson along with community partners who officials say are committed to creating opportunities that will enrich participants physically, emotionally and academically during out-of-school time.

“Being located in downtown Wilson will give us access to resources such as the Imagination Station, the arts council, the whirligig park, the public library and more,” Hill said.


When the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson began researching its first strategic initiative, staffers saw gaps and barriers for middle schoolers who are at the ripening age where decision-making is key. Officials have already hit the ground running in developing the program including hiring Brian Randall, the YMCA’s after-school network developer.

Randall has not only been meeting with various community stakeholders but also middle schoolers who will have input and work collaboratively in designing the program and the new shared space.

Officials said the new YMCA building and surrounding areas will serve two needs — a space and place for the after-school network and YMCA services.

“The YMCA is fortunate to be relocating to a shared home with the after-school network — it’s a true win-win with a brighter future for our youth and YMCA members,” said Kathie Davis, the Wilson Family YMCA’s executive director.


Amenities for the shared space have not been finalized but could include a teaching kitchen, science lab, art room and makerspace.

Youth have played an integral role in shaping the programs from the beginning and recently participated in preliminary design work with architects to help the team think through all the environment needs and possibilities for the new YMCA building and after-school activities.

Little Diversified Architectural Consulting has been selected to lead the design for the shared space. Anne Lebo, architect for the firm, recently worked with middle school students at Imagination Station Science & History Museum to seek their input.

“We talked about how buildings make us feel and the mathematical and systematic approach under which planning typically occurs,” she said. “The energy in the room was spectacular and impressive to say the least.”

Lebo said the firm anticipates inviting the students back to participate in the process as planners move through the various design stages.

“Future opportunities could include more exposure to other design disciplines including engineering, sustainability, graphic design and interior design,” Lebo said.


Denise O’Hara, executive director of Healthcare Foundation of Wilson, said community partners bring invaluable resources, expertise and perspectives to the table for the after-school program initiative. She said the planning team has also been fortunate to have Wilson County Schools on board as a strong partner to carefully consider middle-schoolers’ specific needs.

“Collaboration has brought us to this significant step, and we are excited to be a part of a promising tomorrow for the greater Wilson community,” O’Hara said. “At the end of the day, our focus is on the people in our community who drive program needs and how those needs will drive the design of the place and space.”