Cary News: Community

Rotary summer program prepares teens for the real world

For the fifth summer, young people from the Lake Waccamaw Boys and Girls Homes are visiting the Triangle to gain skills they can use after high school. During the school year, the teenagers live in the Rotary Cottage at the Boys and Girls Homes, a residential community for children who have been neglected or abused.

The four-week summer program was the brainchild of Rotary member Owen Robinson, who wondered what would happen to the teens after they left the Homes. The program, sponsored by area Rotary Clubs, offers the teens chances to visit museums, the courthouse and UNC-Chapel Hill. They also learn practical skills such as budgeting and dining etiquette. Nine Rotary Clubs are sponsoring five boys this summer. The program usually alternates between boys and girls programs, so next year a team of girls will participate.

Rotary Club members and Boys and Girls Homes Board of Trustee members Robinson (from Cary-MacGregor Rotary Club) and Dave Weiss (from Cary-Kildaire Rotary Club) hope to host boys and girls together in the future so that no teen slips through the cracks.

Q: Did the recession affect the support you could get from area clubs and members?

Weiss: We were dependent for the first couple of years on about four clubs. The contributions came from those groups, and the donations were larger. As the economy faltered, more clubs joined in, and we have the funds spread out over more clubs now.

The involvement of more clubs also allows us to let the young people tour places like UNC-Chapel Hill and the Smith Center because groups like the Chapel Hill Rotarians are now helping us.

Q: The program was an ambitious concept when you first started. How has it evolved?

Robinson: Today, we have a bigger support base; there are more Rotary Clubs involved. We started with two clubs, and now there are nine. More individuals are helping us with the program. We also have some great success stories now.

Q: What are some of those success stories?

Robinson: One woman is getting ready to graduate from Wake Tech, and then she will go on to Peace or Meredith to become a dental hygienist. One woman is at UNC-Wilmington studying to become a doctor. A young man who had dropped out of high school came to live with me for six months, took the test to get his GED and ended up getting his high school diploma. He now works in manufacturing at Chrysler in Michigan. One young man has moved to Florida and enrolled at a college in Port St. Lucie. Another young man completed his degree at ITT Tech and lives and works in Virginia now.

Q: Why is getting these teens to the Triangle such an important mission for you?

Weiss: Many of the teens are from rural North Carolina. The Triangle is so vibrant, and there is so much cultural exposure here.

One of the teaching parents from the Homes said that no one has shared the basics with many of these kids. One asked how to buy a stamp and mail a letter. So you can imagine how wonderful it is for them to tour the Smith Center or visit a museum.

Q: How has your own experience helped you to relate to the young people who visit?

Robinson: I was raised with no father; my mother worked two to three jobs. I can relate to these young people; I was in and out of trouble.

One of the young men has been in some trouble, so I sat him down and told him I want to help him go in a positive direction. The main thing they look for is not to be judged. When our kids go off on their own, they have a support base to come back to. These kids don’t. I want them to open up. Now they know someone is in their corner.

Q: What is your next goal for the program?

Robinson: I would love to get the Wilmington and Fayetteville clubs involved. I also want to gain enough support where we could purchase a block of apartments, a place for them to stay when they move to the Triangle. I want them to have transition housing. My goal is to help them transition into the real world and get on their feet.