A Glimpse Inside YES-Appalachia in North Carolina

Rebecca Figueroa (she/her), Operations Manager, YES-Appalachia (NC)

Tell us about your program and what you do:   

YES-Appalachia is a community-based organization that identifies high-performing, low-income students from rural Appalachia. Our mission is to uphold and implement America’s promise of equal opportunity for equal talent in the Western North Carolina counties of Ashe and Watauga. YES-Appalachia commits to providing long-term holistic support services that meet students’ needs at every milestone along their educational journey. We equip highly motivated scholars with the resources, support, and academic skills required for success through high school, college, and career. YES support services include, but are not limited to, weekly YES sessions focused on challenging students academically, in-house summer camps at Appalachian State University, college preparation advising, and access to internships and educational programming across the country.

How did the program get started?

YES-Appalachia is an autonomous branch of YES, a national 501(c)3 non-profit organization with over two decades of educational development work. YES originated in Los Angeles, and later expanded to Chicago, New York, and eventually rural Western North Carolina. YES-Appalachia is the fourth and newest YES branch, and is the only YES branch that serves and supports rural students. YES-Appalachia was established in 2014, in partnership with GEAR UP at Appalachian State University, after an App State alumnus had the opportunity to work for YES-Los Angeles. He believed that YES could be a great resource for high-achieving rural students like himself, and he decided to return to his home state to establish a YES branch in the Appalachian region of North Carolina.  And we are so glad and grateful that he did!

What is one thing your program is known for?  

What makes YES-Appalachia unique is our long-term commitment to our students. We recruit students in 6th grade, and our support for them extends through high school, college, graduate/professional school (if students choose), and all the way up to career placement. We walk alongside each individual student through every phase of their educational journey to ensure that they receive the support necessary to achieve their career goals.

What are you excited about in the near future for your program?           

We are super excited that the inaugural YES-Appalachia cohort will be graduating from high school this year! The scholars have all been diligently working on college applications, and we cannot wait to see the wonderful results after all their hard work.

How has SACAC played a role in your program and/or team?     

SACAC has been very supportive of YES-Appalachia projects, and it has served as an important resource for our staff. We were kindly granted an “Extend the Dream” grant for our three-day “YES-App Route 81 College Tour” for YES juniors and seniors that was scheduled for April 2020. Even though the college tour was cancelled due to COVID-19, we were able to transform our college tour to a two-part brown bag series with 9 different universities, and this was a wonderful experience for YES scholars to connect with admissions officers from various institutions. Additionally, SACAC has been instrumental in my own professional development through their webinars and their SACAC Counselor Participation Fund. We are very grateful for SACAC!

What’s the favorite lunch food of you or your team?     

I absolutely love Kimchi-jjigae with a bowl of steaming rice. Even though there are many ways to prepare this kimchi-based stew, my favorite is with pork belly. Yum!

What’s your favorite quote, and who originally said it? 

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

-Lilla Watson

Tell us an interesting and fun tidbit about your program.            

Every summer, YES-Appalachia hosts the YES Adventure Academy at Appalachian State University. During this week-long, residential summer camp, six rising ninth grade scholars from each YES branch (Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and North Carolina) come together and enjoy a plethora of educational and social activities. This is a great and fun way to build a strong community of YES scholars across all four branches, and it serves as a rite of passage for YES scholars as they transition from middle school to high school. Even though the pandemic has disrupted this in-house summer program, we are eagerly planning for future YES Adventure Academies.

Anything else?

We are currently recruiting for the YES-Appalachia Class of 2027. It is always exciting to identify new YES scholars and begin working with them. We are grateful for the ability to continue to expand and serve more students, despite the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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