Highland County’s Youth Philanthropy Council Present Awards To Community Organizations


Three Highland County organizations were provided with funds to further their impact on the community last week.  On May 10, 2017, The Youth Philanthropy Council, supported by the Community Foundation, held their second annual awards ceremony.  Funds were doubled from the previous year, as eleven members of the council had the difficult decision of choosing which of the applicants would receive a share of $10,000. The Highland Center Executive Director, Betty Mitchell, and Youth and Community Outreach Coordinator, Josh Umar, made comments that infrastructure and equipment were new considerations this year and that the awards decision was tough, with more requests made than could be funded. Ultimately, the grants went to a diverse group from around the county to serve as many areas and ages as possible. 

The first award for $3,000 was presented to the Valley Program for the Aging Services. Harmony Leonard, the Highland County Senior Services Coordinator, says they will be able to continue the service at their present rate. She says, “It will make a huge difference in the program. Our transportation program over the last four years has just gone from zero to literally a hundred. We are providing transportation, medical transportation, three, four, sometimes five times a week, so it’s a very valuable service for the people that are needing to get to appointments, and we also transport their caregiver, so it’s not just the individual, but they can take a caregiver with them, so without this grant, we couldn’t do it.”

The next award went to the McDowell Volunteer Fire Department for $3,050 to purchase new swivel dump chutes for their tankers. Chief Doug Siron explains how this new equipment will help. He says, “Especially for structure fires, it’s going to speed our tanker operations up. The tankers don’t have to turn around and back up at certain places, they can dump from side to side or off the back. We were glad. We were excited that they thought about us.”

The final award went to Dare to Dream Therapeutic Horsemanship Center in the form of $3,950. Operating in its second year in the Mill Gap area, the center provides therapeutic horseback riding for people with various challenges. Executive Director, Marsha Lunsford, discusses the impact that the money will make. She says, “We plan to have a scholarship program for Highland County residents. They can be of any age. They would need to have some type of challenge that they need to overcome, and they would want to come to our place and work with the horses and be in the outdoors as way of coping with whatever it is that they’re dealing with. This grant is a big help to us, because we really want to make sure that we’re reaching everybody who could use the services, and there are people out there I know that have been thinking about maybe doing something like this. You know, maybe they’ve always loved horses or they would like to do something outdoors. They just want to feel better, and so, we are really hoping that this will help them, encourage them to contact us and get working on their issues. I’m just really grateful to the YPC organization, and they’re doing really awesome work.”

Dan Layman is the CEO of the Community Foundation of Central Blue Ridge, which established the Youth Philanthropy Council. He says, “I was so impressed with their thought process. They could have, with $10,000 and eleven non-profits that applied, they could have given every non-profit a little bit of money, but instead, they chose to focus those funds and to have the forethought to think, ‘How can we touch as much of the community as possible? How can we look for the best investments to make?’ I think they’ve made some very insightful decisions.”

In closing, Mr. Layman says that as the Community Foundation continues to grow, he hopes they can continue serve Highland County in new ways.

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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