High Rocks Educational Corporation, known for its summer camp High Rocks Academy program at Mill Point, has been recognized beyond the campfire. High Rocks Executive Director Sarah Riley received the Power of Performance Communities Revitalization Award at the 2023 Small Communities, Big Solutions Conference in Lewisburg last month.
This award represents how High Rocks uses earning-and-learning programs to revitalize communities, create pathways out of poverty, and inspire young West Virginians to develop leadership skills and engage in their community.
“We work with young people because we know that an investment in our young people is the most important strategic investment we can make in the future of West Virginia,” Riley said. “And we know that the reality of our young people is that they need to earn money, while they also need opportunities to grow and thrive.”
The High Rocks method for community transformation starts with supporting young people in gaining personal and professional skills that will allow them to find high-quality, life-sustaining jobs right here in the Mountain State.
High Rocks has applied best practices from its original camp program to newer earning-and-learning businesses and programs to build skills résumés and earn certifications and degrees.
Through camps, sustainable agriculture, hospitality, information technology, STEM and service, High Rocks offers opportunities for young people to build themselves and improve their communities.
Ruby Grow, an organic farm in Pocahontas County, teaches young farmers everything from planting and harvesting to marketing and value-added products, growing beautiful food for the people who need it most – schools, food pantries and local families and businesses. Tech Express in Lewisburg is Greenbrier County’s homegrown genius bar, where young people learn information technology, cyber security and computer diagnostics while providing the community with a competitive resource for computer repairs, as well as workshops to learn and practice everything from robots for teens to small phones for seniors. High Rocks operates the Hub Café in Lewisburg, a community café featuring everything from house-made bagels and pastries to specialty coffee drinks, and offers free tutoring and community workshops and events.
The First2 Network which empowers first-generation college students studying STEM, and High Rocks thriving AmeriCorps program (now the second-largest AmeriCorps program in the state of West Virginia) both provide stipends, learning experience and tuition support, and are other ways that this organization is working toward engaging young people, developing leadership skills, offering earning-and-learning opportunities, and bringing about change throughout the region.
“We know that supporting young people on their journey impacts whole communities,” Riley said. “I’m proud of our amazing team, alumni and partners. Just last year alone, High Rocks leveraged $358,610 in earning-and-learning dollars into the pockets of teens and college students across West Virginia working to improve themselves and their communities. This, in addition to $612,000 in AmeriCorps living and education stipends, brought nearly $1 million in purchasing power to 184 young Appalachians leaders.”
When Stephanie Tyree, Executive Director of the WV Community Development Hub, presented the award to Riley, she shared Sarah’s bio in her remarks.
“Sarah grew up in Pocahontas County and then went to Harvard University. She graduated with honors in history with a focus on economic underdevelopment. She was a founding partner with Susan Burt in High Rocks and has been planning, teaching, counseling, fundraising, networking and building High Rocks in one way or another since 1996. Sarah was named among 40 under 40 emerging leaders in West Virginia in 2009. In 2014, West Virginia Focus Magazine featured her as one of West Virginia’s “Wonder Women” in their premiere issue. In 2015, the Appalachian Studies Association awarded Sarah the prestigious Helen Lewis Community Service Award for outstanding community service to Appalachia and its people. Sarah was honored as a 2015 Zenith Award winner for exemplary service to the Greenbrier Valley. In 2017, Sarah and the High Rocks were awarded the state West Virginia Red Wagon Award for helping West Virginia children, and in 2019, she was honored with the Power of Performance Award for changing lives across southern West Virginia. Sarah has four children and lives happily on the family farm her husband grew up on, raising local meats, eggs and produce. She is grateful to continue working with her mother, Susan Burt.”
“This Power of Performance award for Revitalizing Communities is a major milestone for High Rocks,” Riley said. “We have been talking about investing in young people as an economic and community development strategy for years, and it means so much to us to have this work recognized by leading West Virginia community and economic development organizations.”
The Power of Performance award, selected from anonymous nominations, was presented collectively by the West Virginia Community Development Hub, the Alliance for the Economic Development of Southern West Virginia (the seven colleges in southern West Virginia), and Coalfield Development Corporation, whose mission is to rebuild the Appalachian economy from the ground up.
From campfires to careers, Sarah Riley and High Rocks is dedicated to empowering, inspiring, and educating young people for the greater good of the community. Find out more about the programs at High Rocks or learn about opportunities to get involved at www.highrocks.org