Worcester Retains Red Doors For Summer Programs

SNOW HILL — Worcester County has renewed its contract with Red Doors Community Center for the STEP UP and Reach for the Stars programs.

Owing to the success of last year’s programs, which were the first done without federal help, the County Commission also agreed to a five-year pilot program, though nothing that far in the future could be set in stone.

While Worcester has had STEP UP and Reach for the Stars for years, federal funding was lost in 2013, jeopardizing the future of the programs. But last year the county decided to take on funding for the projects to keep them running, contracting with Red Doors for the educational camp and internships.

“I personally was thrilled with the opportunities that these young people received from the businesses in our county,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “And now it’s ours because we got the rug pulled out from under us by NASA and by the sequestration.”

Reach for the Stars offered a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camp while STEP UP featured internship placement with county businesses in a number of fields including media production, environmental science, physical therapy and Internet security. The first year for both programs under Worcester’s domain was encouragingly successful, according to Bill Badger, director of Economic Development.

“The result was a program that remained true to the integrity and academic rigor of the Wallops program,” he wrote in a memo to the commission, “and one that was a major success with area employers.”

Those employers included Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County.

“It provided our affiliate with the ability to engage the youth populations, which resulted in active participation from this demographic, which hadn’t been possible for quite some time,” wrote Andrea Bowland, Habitat executive director. “The program also enabled us to explore and put ideas into initiatives that would otherwise been very far down the pipeline. There was no shortage of things for the interns to do.”

Israel Engle, from SVP Operations, Bel-Art, had a pair of interns through STEP UP.

“Our two interns, Hunter and Paige, were excellent interns,” said Engle. “Both were bright students who demonstrated a desire to learn and be a part of Bel-Art.”

The Reach for the Stars camp was likewise endorsed by participants and parents. Tammie Mathias, the parent of a student that took part in the summer program, called it “excellent from beginning to end” and was glad that the older teens who had found internships through STEP UP visited with the younger students in the STEM camp to share their experiences.

That initial success prompted the commission to renew Red Doors for at least another year with the $77,000 cost already included in the county’s FY14 budget. But Badger is also hopeful that the county will engage in a five-year pilot program with Red Doors.

“We know that the commissioners can’t guarantee anything five years in the future but we felt strongly because of the success last year that we’d like to seek a five-year pilot program to continue this program based on the success we had in year one,” Badger said.

Though the commission is guaranteed to see at least three new faces after the next election and therefore can’t promise to commit to a program for five years, the current board members were enthusiastic about Reach for the Stars and STEP UP and did tentatively agree to a pilot program as well as guaranteeing at least one more year in 2014.

In the next year, the number of internship placements will increase from 14 to 20 while in years ahead Red Doors hopes to see “flow from camp to internships” and the eventual professional employment of former interns by county employers.