Northfork, West Virginia is a tiny town situated in eastern McDowell County, with a population of 421 according to the 2010 Census. There’s not much there- ATV trails dot the landscape with a few local restaurants and a dollar store here and there. Specifically, when youth look for a place to hang out, they often come up short. One man is looking to change that.
Nate Smith, past recipient of the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award, is on a mission to help his town create a safe space for youth. Nate is a force to be reckoned with and like many movers and shakers in McDowell County, he wears dozens of hats. At any given time you can find him coaching basketball or football at Mountview High School, volunteering at the local food bank, starting a high school tennis team, helping with community based soccer programs put on by WVU Extension McDowell County, or just trying to make his lifetime home a better place.
Nate plans to either convert an abandoned building or build a new community facility, specifically for youth in Northfork. “I want a place where they feel safe, and kids can come and hang out and play ball or work on homework. A place that takes care of after-school needs – a lot of these kids are headed home after school to nothing, even food. I want to change that.” Nate is passionate about his third space creation – the theory that people need a place to hang out besides home and work or school. In adult cases, this is often a restaurant, coffee shop, bar, or yoga studio. For Nate, he sees this as a place for youth to gather, adults to be employed, and the community to interact. “Sports and activities outside the home bring so much more than just competitiveness, it’s how some kids learn to get along with each other and build those life skills.”
While this dream is gathering steam, Nate is keeping himself busy by participating in and directing community based sports programs. He’s formed a nonprofit called Grayhound Youth Sports and is deep in learning organizational structure – he saw a need and simply decided to do something about it. He subscribes to the theory that everybody can be engaged with physical activity at any level, and plans on running camps during the summer whether he has a building or not. “You can put on a camp anywhere, for anybody. Let’s use our local parks and show people that they can be utilized for awesome activities too!” replies Nate with a laugh when asked about camp ownership and just where he plans on having these camps. For Nate, every single struggle is seen as an opportunity to make a stronger and better program. One thing is for sure, this infectious energy and personality is needed and will go far in Southern West Virginia.