Creating Opportunities for Highland Youth

This summer The Highland Center hired its newest employee, Youth and Community Outreach Coordinator Josh Umar.  Coming from the DC area, Josh stepped in to take on the Center’s youth and entrepreneurship programs.  He led a very successful season of the Youth Employment Program (YEP), with 14 local teenagers giving 1,526 hours at work sites including Highland County Public Schools, the Highland County Public Library, the Highland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive 365 Farm, Valley Program for Aging Services, Allegheny Mountain Radio, and the Highland Inn.

YEP participant Zack Myers, 16, works on computers for Highland County Public Schools.

In addition to earning a stipend and gaining hands-on work experience, participants learned about important “soft skills” such as maintaining a good work ethic, showing up on time, and building a resume.  The Center led the students through financial and career planning sessions, and mock job interviews were held with SCORE business counselors.

YEP was highlighted at the Workforce Round Table on August 31st as an example of a program that gives local youth tangible skills to take into the workforce.  The Center is looking into the possibility of expanding the program throughout the year, and also adding more entrepreneurial experiences and apprenticeship opportunities.  One participant this summer worked with a local farm and had her own dedicated garden bed, where she grew vegetables and sold them at the farmers’ market.  “I’d like to see more opportunities like that in the future,” says Josh.  “I think this program can lead to a more entrepreneurial mindset, where kids will eventually go out and make their own opportunities and contribute to the county.”

The Highland Center is also taking the lead on a new initiative for high school students, the Youth Philanthropy Council (YPC).  The YPC is a teen administered grant-making board that will meet regularly with local leaders and non-profits to discuss community needs, and will eventually award grants totaling at least $5,000 to worthy causes.  The Center is grateful for its partnership with the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge on this program.  The first meeting of the YPC will take place on Wednesday, October 14th at the Highland Inn.  Applications are being accepted through September 28th.  If you are interested or know a local teenager who would like to participate, stop by the Highland Inn or email Josh at

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