Pictured above: Members of the Harvest Youth Board are pictured at the 2020 Thanksgiving Eve Dinner box distribution event.
Area students are invited to apply to join the Harvest Youth Board, a high-impact organization focused on issues that affect young people in Martinsville-Henry County. Applications are available online until Thursday, April 15.
The youth board is a student-led organization open to students from Martinsville-Henry County schools, including those who are homeschooled. Initially funded by The Harvest Foundation and the Kiwanis Club, the group was formed in 2015 and had 13 original members from across the community.
Typically, the youth board meets monthly on Saturdays to consider grants, projects, and to plan its signature event, the W. Dan Prince III Thanksgiving Eve Dinner, which happens annually in November. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to do things differently this year.
India Brown, program officer at The Harvest Foundation and co-advisor to the youth board, said a major part of the board is the relationships built among members, which made the virtual environment forced by COVID-19 tough to manage.
“It was challenging for members, especially new members, to build relationships because meetings were held virtually,” she said. “However, this year, the board restructured their committees which allowed them to work together — virtually — outside of the monthly meetings, allowing them to continue and build those relationships.”
Members have put in a lot of effort to meet the challenges of COVID-19 head-on, said Stacy Peters, grants administrator at The Harvest Foundation and co-advisor to the youth board.
“They’ve had to come up with new approaches to meet their annual goals, and retool some of their community work, like the Thanksgiving Eve Dinner,” Peters said.
The dinner, which typically is a sit-down meal at Martinsville High School the day before Thanksgiving, was a food distribution event this year at the Henry County Food Pantry. While the meal couldn’t be held in a traditional setting, the board still found an opportunity to partner with another community group serving Martinsville-Henry County.
“The changes to this year’s Thanksgiving Eve Dinner event is just one example of a great and impactful response to the pandemic from the Harvest Youth Board,” Peters added. “Not being able to meet in person and having to cancel events has been a huge disappointment to them, but they are working really hard to complete their goals and serve the community.”
Will Gardner, chairperson of the youth board, said while some of the changes they made came with some obstacles, they “were able to learn a lot so we could move forward and grow to become a better board.”
Recruiting and connecting with potential new board members was a test of creativity for the Harvest Youth Board. They had to come up with a new game plan and strategy. Brown said usually members are able to connect face-to-face with potential members during school hours, extracurricular activities, and recruitment events, but because of the virtual environment, they had to rely heavily on social media to reach as many candidates as possible.
Peters said they also used other new strategies, including reaching schools through email, having Q&A sessions on Zoom, and they moved to a complete digital platform for the youth board application.
The board not only serves as a resource for young people and the greater community but also allows its members to develop leadership skills through experience. As a true student-led group, skills like decision-making, budgeting, and relationship building are all cultivated through service on the youth board. Members decide and vote on every decision made for the board, including grants, committees, officers, and by-laws.
“As a co-advisor, we are there to help guide them and assist in any way we can, but ultimately, the final decisions are made by board members,” Peters said. “This teaches them responsibility, the importance of hard work, how to work together, and how to use their voice to make a difference. The youth board builds our community’s future leaders. I hope this experience will help guide them back to Martinsville-Henry County where they can continue to serve our community for years to come.”
Brown added, “These are lifelong skills that can be applied at all stages of life. I hope board members develop into young leaders who are unafraid to provide a voice for young people and continue to strive to make a positive impact in Martinsville-Henry County.”
The best advice Will said he could give to a young person interested in applying to join the youth board would be to “show passion and enthusiasm for the community. I applied to the board because I love this community. I believe the only thing this community is missing is optimism, and my goal is to restore that optimism.”
While on the youth board, Will said he’s been able to learn and experience so many things.
“I’ve been able to truly know what it takes to be a leader, how to create partnerships, how to resolve conflicts, and how to organize and execute my goals.”
Members of the Harvest Youth Board are looking for students who genuinely enjoy making a difference in the local community. Candidates must be rising sophomores and juniors enrolled in Martinsville-Henry County schools or homeschooled. They’re also looking for students involved in other activities in the community like volunteering.
All applicants must complete the online application which requires a resume, a narrative explaining why they want to join the youth board, and two letters of recommendation.