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Initiative combats 'brain drain' in Randolph County

The Randolph County Youth Development Initiative (RCYDI) began when Marian Royston, an Auburn University and Living Democracy alumna and Roanoke native, decided to help her hometown combat an issue known as the rural “brain drain” -- the outmigration of talented, young people from rural communities. 

Although Royston first had the idea for the program about two years ago, it began officially in September 2015. 

RCYDI’s purpose is to reduce the “brain drain” in Randolph County by introducing high school students to various industries around the county, teaching them the skills necessary for operating in the professional world, and guiding them toward higher self-confidence. 

To find funding for RCYDI, Royston talked to Cotina Terry, the executive director of the Randolph County Economic Development Authority, about grant eligibility. Fortunately, Randolph County only had to match 20 percent of funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission grant. Soon afterward, the grant was approved and the program began.

Nineteen students from all four of the high schools in Randolph County were selected to become a part of RCYDI this past year. 

The students were then matched with a work placement, some of which included the Bank of Wedowee, Gerson’s Garden, Burgess Farm Supply, and Wadley Holdings. As a result of these work placements, five students were offered part time jobs and one earned an internship. 

In addition to work placements, the students took field trips to various places. They attended a forum at Auburn University focused on how to prepare for the jobs of the future.

To develop soft skills, RCYDI did a module on etiquette, which culminated in a reception hosted at the house of Jerry and Patsy Cotney of Roanoke. During the reception, students got to practice their social skills by speaking to and learning from different folks from around the community. 

Another field trip involved students visiting Southern Union in Opelika. While there, students toured the new Center for Integrated Manufacturing and met the director of Technical Education. 

During these field trips and other weekly activities, students who at first were too shy to speak in front of each other developed confidence and better communication skills. Students who were wary about sitting with the strange kids from the other high schools eventually became great friends. Not only did the students grow professionally, but they also grew personally. 

For Royston, the biggest obstacles in establishing RCYDI were personal ones. Transitioning from student to work life and building a program from scratch challenged her. 

But, regardless of hardships, she said, “I feel very empowered to build the program into something great. I have a great appreciation for the people who make the world go round now. This has been a very humbling experience.” 

Christian Meadows, a rising junior from Woodland High School, worked at Shelton Farms for his work placement. One of his favorite experiences was vaccinating dozens of cows for Shelton Farms. “I loved it. I learned a lot about talking to people, cattle, and I learned team work,” said Christian.

Another student, Corey Prothro, had a work placement at Main Street Coffee House. He claims the experience helped him grow in various ways. "It changed the way I look at life, the way I look at people and the way I look at challenges," said Corey.

RCYDI celebrated the accomplishments at a graduation ceremony and reception held May 31. Hopefully, with time, the program will be able to help Randolph County tap into talent that potentially would’ve otherwise been left undiscovered.