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Men & Women United for Youth & Families is a non-profit which works in the tri-county area of Bladen, Brunswick, and Columbus Counties to promote education, resource awareness and to provide services to assist in creating independent and self–sufficient youth and families. The Executive Director, Mr. Randolph Keaton from Riegelwood continues to lead the way for the benefit of the non-profit’s programs and for the tri-county communities. One program the local group facilitates is the Youth Ambassador Program.

Youth Ambassadors for a Better Community (YABC) is a mission based youth leadership group founded in 2015. It started out on a mission to increase the quantity, quality, and sustainability of community gardens across the tri-county area, while instilling leadership, entrepreneurship, and social skills with youth.

The program has been very successful with great outcomes. The Youth Ambassadors gained notoriety around the nation and has garnered new partnerships.

In 2018 the Youth Ambassadors partnered with North Carolina State University’s Vacation Viddles Program. This week the group spoke to the Elizabethtown Rotary Club about the Vacation Viddles Program.

In collaboration with North Carolina State University and Cooke Realty the Youth Ambassadors coordinate and distribute fresh produce from community farmers to vacationers and visitors during the summer months of June, July and August.

Vacation Viddles connects vacationers with local food provided by farmers located in Bladen, Brunswick, and Columbus counties.

This program is an initiative of NC State Extension under a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program Grant, according to Mr. Keaton. People-first Tourism provides technical support to the project, and Cooke Realty provides marketing assistance. The Bladen and Brunswick County Extension Centers provided trainings in food safety and food handling, and Men & Women United’s Youth Ambassadors coordinate the distribution of the Vacation Viddles produce bags.

“We pack the vegetables out on Fridays and go out on Saturdays and stay about three to four hours distributing about 200 to 300 bags across seven to eight beaches,” Mr. Keaton stated.

This program teaches the youth entrepreneurial skills and farming skills, he explained to the Rotarians.

The ambassadors also sell their produce at the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market in Elizabethtown on Fridays during the summer months for Farm Fresh Fridays.

The program does have an issue with running low on produce at times. The Youth Ambassadors do have some gardens of their own they manage, and they have local farmers that allow the group to harvest produce off their farms as well to help with the program. The goal is to have more farmers to partner with the program, Mr. Keaton said. “We will go to the farm and get the produce, we just need the permission from the farmer.”

Men & Women United for Youth & Families not only work to increase access to locally grown food, build leadership and entrepreneurial skills, support local farmers by creating new markets, and work on policies and advocacy, they provide scholarships. Over the years they have provided over $45,000 in scholarships to the local youth.

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