In the heart of Talcott, a small town nestled in the scenic landscapes of West Virginia, Michaela Wynes, with the help of her cousin Malik, has embarked on a remarkable journey to uplift her community with the founding of the Wynes Facility for Families and Children. The non-profit organization is dedicated to improving the lives of young individuals in their hometown.
While 2020 was the year when most people struggled due to the COVID pandemic, it was the following year that Michaela had her own personal struggles. She conceded that things had piled up on her and her mental health struggled along with her ability to be herself. At one of the moments that she felt at her lowest, her mom came in and she realized how grateful she was that she had her family.
Around the same time, while Michaela was working at the Summers County Visitor’s Center, she noticed a group of kids riding skateboards in the street – a street that was populated by trucks and cars with regularity. She saw that there were no parents or guardians supervising the children, and she quickly realized that she may have found a need for her community.
“I thought about those kids and how they didn’t really have a place to go and ride their skateboards safely,” she says. “I was frustrated by this. I brought the idea up to a friend, and she said, ‘Well, do something about it.’ And I thought I can do something about it.”
The concept was more than just a place for kids to ride skateboards in a safe place. She thought about the gap of time for working families between when school lets out and when parents get off of work. She also thought about helping to expose students to education and career options at an early age to provide them with goals to work towards.
She went to the YMCA in Beckley to discuss some of her ideas for the youth in Summers County, but the hour’s distance between the two did not help solve the problems in her hometown. The YMCA recommended that she start a non-profit organization so that they could then become partners. That’s where Malik entered the picture.
Michaela and Malik were often confused as twins growing up because they were the same age and had the same last name. The cousins were as tight as siblings, though, and remained that way growing up. The two first-generation college students parted ways as Michaela came to Morgantown to WVU and Malik went to WVU Tech in Beckley.
Michaela came to WVU looking to major in biology, but soon found that her passion was helping children and families. Meanwhile, Malik was majoring in business. Based upon the YMCA’s recommendation to create a non-profit, she turned to Malik’s business acumen to help make it happen. The pair combined their skills and the Wynes Facility for Families and Children launched in December of 2021.
Despite great ambition and enthusiasm, the two faced some challenges when it came to getting things off the ground and running. The first was that some didn’t Michaela or Malik seriously because of their youth.
“We were just 21 years old, so not everyone took us seriously,” Michaela admits. “People looked at us as if we were just a couple of kids who wanted to do this for a month and then we would be over it. Now, though, they see we’re still at it and we’re changing their minds.”
The other challenge was that Michaela was still three and a half hours away at school in WVU working on finishing her degree. She and Malik did the best they could with programming and helping to promote their organization over the last year before Michaela graduated in May of 2023.
“We’re just trying to go where we can be the most helpful and branch out,” Michaela says. “The next phase for us is trying to have more consistent programming this fall.”
The pace for growth at the Wynes Facility for Families and Children will be slow and steady over the next few years as Michaela pursues a graduate degree from the University of South Carolina.
Looking to the future, the Wynes Facility for Families and Children aims to offer a wide range of services tailored to the needs of their community. Beyond programs such as preschool and infant care, the organization envisions providing after-school care, college preparation, career guidance, financial literacy, and more. By catering to various stages of a child's development, Michaela and Malik aspire to create a holistic support system that empowers the youth of Summers County to achieve their full potential.
Michaela hopes to serve as a counselor for the organization once her schooling is completed. She points to her experiences at WVU that helped her find her and nurture her passion that she will now pour into her hometown for years to come.
“The program and the faculty really prepared me well,” she says. “I wanted to do my assignments, I wanted to do extra research because I wanted to have as much knowledge about the topics I was writing about. What started as a little spark turned into a huge bonfire.”