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Mentor program director has passion for children

South Boston News
Angela Townes-Yancey is welcomed to her new post by Mentor Role Model board vice-president Lott Rogers. / April 04, 2013
Angela Townes-Yancey worked so diligently for community ventures, she eventually was tapped to run one.

Townes-Yancey is the new executive director of the Mentor Role Model Program, a non-profit group that pairs youths with adult role models who can offer friendship, guidance and a positive example for handling life’s many challenges.

The 36-year-old Mecklenburg County native has been on the job for several weeks after coming over from Halifax County United Way, where she worked her way up to full-time from a part-time staff position. Prior to that, she served as a volunteer for the Tri-County Community Action Head Start program.

With Head Start, “I volunteered so much people thought I worked there,” she said with a laugh.

Her excitement in talking about the Mentor Role Model Program is palpable — a product of her love and concern for children, and eagerness to revitalize a program now going on its third decade.

One of her first tasks has been to prepare for the annual Mentor Role Model Gala, on Thursday, April 11 from 6-9 p.m. at The Prizery banquet hall. The Gala is the program’s major fundraiser; tickets are $30 and include dinner by Four Oaks Restaurant, music and dancing, a silent auction and 50/50 raffle and cash bar.

The Mentor Role Model Program counts itself as having about 40 adult volunteer mentors and roughly twice as many young “mentees,” but Townes-Yancey has set her sights on doubling those numbers.

“My goal is ‘up, up and away,’” she said. “I can’t see anything but an increase for the program.”

There’s a pressing need for adult mentors in Halifax County who are willing to spend time with children, says Townes-Yancey, not just those considered “at-risk,” but practically every child. “All children have a need for that outside attention,” she said.

“I have children, I have a husband, I have a nice family, but I know my own children need mentoring as well,” she said.

Townes-Yancey brings an appreciation for life’s bumps to her new position: before becoming involved in charitable causes, she ran a small Clarksville business, Turnin’ Heads salon, which she continues to own and operate. However, the business, like most in town, was hurt badly when the Burlington and Russell Stover plants shut down a decade ago. “Lots of places closed down, the economy slowed down, and people stopped getting their hair done, and I had to do something,” she recalled.

Around the same time, she and her husband, Joel, were looking to start a family — a path in life that Townes-Yancey says she was destined to take, and it showed: “Everybody said, girl, you need your own kids, you love them so much.”

Standing in the way was her physical condition. Weighing more than 300 pounds, she was unable to conceive, and although the cause wasn’t entirely clear, “the doctor pretty much told me, ‘If you can get the weight off, I think you can have a child.”

So that’s what Townes-Yancey did. She credits the Lifestyle Weight Management program, run by South Boston businessman Ben Bridgers, with helping her lose 110 pounds in 10 months. She ended up working at Bridgers’ business part-time, but more importantly, she and husband Joel celebrated their first child nine years after getting married in 1996. Today they have three children, two biological, one the adopted daughter of a late aunt.

“I just made a life decision that something had to change,” she said. “The weight was a factor in that.”

Her next major life transition came on the heels of becoming a mother. With her first-born enrolled in the local Head Start program, Townes-Yancey volunteered to help out starting in 2010. Doing what she could, she eventually took on the role of parent policy chairperson for the program.

She also came into contact with Jewel Medley, director of United Way, who went on to hire her as a part-time administrative assistant. Getting a job was an answer to one of her prayers, said Townes-Yancey, and part-time work led to full-time hours when she was promoted in October 2011 to the UW’s development coordinator.

With the United Way, “I started networking and we stayed busy,” she said. In addition to coordinating with the charity’s recipient agencies, she also worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce, even volunteering to sell t-shirts at the Cantaloupe Festival in exchange for admission to the event. “We sold 1,500 t-shirts,” she said, to the Chamber’s surprise. She recalled the reaction: “Are you serious? We usually sell a few hundred.

“They were like, ‘You are awesome,” and I was like ‘Thank you.’ And that’s where it started from,” said Townes-Yancey.

Her path has taken its latest turn with Townes-Yancey migrating over to the Mentor Role Model Program. She credits many people for her progress, and sees the generosity extended to her reflected in the community’s support for the mentoring program.

“We have some wonderful people here in Halifax County,” she said. “I’ve only been in this position for three weeks, and the people who have opened their hearts, opened their hands, their doors and their wallets to the program, it has made me cry.”

Mentoring requires an hour a week of a person’s time, but the commitment is ongoing and not always easy to maintain. “These children need devotion, they don’t need someone who says they’re going to be there and they’re not,” she said. Yet the rewards can be great: “The pay is zero, but the benefits are outstanding. One little change can make a big change in a child’s life. It’s worth it.”

The Mentor Role Model Program is planning to move out of its current home on the fifth floor of the old Leggett store building downtown, and head over to the renovated Washington-Coleman community center, where Townes-Yancey is excited to have a playground, open space, meeting rooms and other facilities to take advantage of. The move is scheduled in June.

Until then, she is busily planning for the Gala and reaching out to schools and other organizations about ramping up the program. One thing she isn’t concerned about, however, is not running out of children to serve.

“We can go out and get all the mentees we can get, but it doesn’t do any good if we don’t have mentors,” she said.

For more information or to volunteer with the Mentor Role Model Program, contact Townes-Yancey at (434) 575-3011 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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