Investing In Teenagers

Contributions to United Way of Whatcom County’s Community Impact Fund make a huge difference in Education, Income and Health right here in our community.  In the area of Education, we are proud to support several programs that encourage high school graduation and prepare teens for adulthood.
When his mother died in the midst of his senior year, Vang Le and his five siblings were left on their own. Mourning the loss of his mother, Le quickly lost interest in school and dropped out.
“My family was falling apart and I didn’t think anyone would help us get back on our feet,” said Le. “Then I thought of the people who had helped me most in the past and realized I was being selfish so I went to them for help.”
The staff at the United Way-funded Power Hour program at the Bellingham Boys and Girls Club, who Le refers to as his family, were more than willing to help and encourage Le to go back to school. Le was eager to take their advice and soon graduated high school with plans to pursue further education at Western Washington University.
With the help of scholarships and the support of his Boys and Girls Club "family," Le has finished his first year at Western, has held a staff position at Bellingham Boys and Girls Club for more than a year, and was recently awarded the Whatcom County and State of Washington Youth Awards.
“I always make sure to give the club credit for my success,” said Le. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
Vang Le’s story is one of the many examples of how generously donated funds to the United Way of Whatcom County’s Community Impact Fund provides critical services and support for teenagers to prepare them for graduation and adulthood.
According to data provided by the State of Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the  estimated 2015 graduation rate in Whatcom County was 79 percent (78.1 percent for Washington State).  This increase in the graduation rate from 2014 values represents a change in the right direction. According to America’s Promise, if high school dropout rates were cut in half it would generate nearly $45 billion in new tax revenue. Similarly, the Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that over the next decade America’s dropouts will cost the nation $3 trillion through the course of their lifetime. In addition, if the high school completion rate was raised by merely 1 percent among men ages 20-60 it would save the United States $1.4 billion annually in crime-related costs.
That’s why United Way is proud to support programs like the Power Hour that focus on solutions and help make a difference in the lives of our young people and beyond.  In order to brighten the future for Whatcom County, several United Way of Whatcom County-funded programs focus on decreasing dropout rates through promoting personal growth, economic self-sufficiency, self-reliance, healthy family relationships and a safe place to live. We’re investing your donations towards programs that have been proven to make a better community for all of us.
As mentioned in Vang Le’s story, the Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County is able to make a difference in our community. Their Power Hour program is incentive-based and students receive 1 point for every minute they spend in the Think Tank, which is a quiet room designated for students to complete their homework and access help if they need it. On the last Friday of every month the Boys and Girls Club opens up a prize shack in which students can use the points they receive through the Power Hour to purchase prizes.
“I spent every minute I could in the Think Tank,” said Le. “My primary goal wasn’t to complete my homework rather it was to get more points so I could buy granola bars because I was always hungry.”
Through the Culminating Projects program, which is a program provided through The Power Hour program, high school students are provided with direct help in completing their culminating service-learning projects. The Culminating Projects program trains high school juniors and seniors in many aspects of the Boys & Girls Club in the hopes that they become a mentor to the younger children and gain hands-on experience.
Some additional programs proudly funded by the United Way of Whatcom County are the Transitional Living and Positive Adolescent Development programs offered by Northwest Youth Services (NYWS). These programs provide essential services for runaway and homeless youth in order to help them finish their high school or vocational education and become self-sufficient citizens. They provide positive, safe and stable temporary housing to help them get back on their feet, said Riannon Bardsley, Executive Director of NWYS.
The Transitional Living program provides teens with housing for up to 18 months while the PAD program provides teens with up to three weeks of temporary housing and support from professional staff 24 hours a day. The programs also help teens with family mediation, mental health counseling, daycare for teens that are parents and vocational training such as how to write a resumé and how to prepare for a job interview.
“We try to provide the teens with assistance for anything they need help with,” said Bardsley. “If we can’t provide it for them, we refer them to other organizations that can.”
By providing a safe environment and positive mentors, the United Way-funded Healthy Teens program has helped over 2,240 Whatcom County teenagers say “No” to drugs. A recent study has shown that when teenagers are challenged to think about life values, they have increased chances for becoming successful adults that give back to their community.  The program, provided by the Whatcom Family YMCA, provides a safe environment for teenagers to pursue a healthy lifestyle and learn about crucial moral values such as caring, respect, honesty and responsibility.
The United Way-funded GRADS program is also aimed at increasing the success of teenagers in high school and adulthood through their Teen Parent Program. This program makes it possible for teen parents and soon-to-be parents to attain the education they need to graduate high school and achieve a better life for them and their children. Through the program, students take classes to help them acquire their diplomas and they also receive classes in parenting, child psychology, and consumer math so that they can survive on their own after graduation.
The programs described above are just a few examples of the many ways that United Way of Whatcom County is working on improving teen’s and pre-teens’ chances of graduating high school and building healthy adults. Your contributions to the United Way of Whatcom County provides nearly 5,000 Whatcom County teens with positive opportunities and the encouragement they need to graduate high school and become productive members of our community.
Providing teens with these programs is crucial in the continued success and health of our community. A donation to United Way of Whatcom County’s Community Impact Fund is not only an investment in a teenager’s life, but in the community as a whole – a way to truly LIVE UNITED.

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