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Alumni praise retiring YouthBuild teacher

ELKINS – Friends, family and colleagues of a retiring Randolph County YouthBuild instructor gathered at the program’s center near North School on Thursday to celebrate his retirement and offer their farewells.

Loren Fortney has taught high school equivalency classes to students enrolled in the program for 12 years, assisting in their completion of General Education Testing (GED) at a 73 percent achievement rate.

YouthBuild Program Manager Michelle Phares said in the 20 years the program has existed in Randolph County, Fortney has been one of the biggest reasons for its success.

“We have a lot of new students here who are just starting. We have students at this celebration that came to see Loren that have been gone for 10 years,” she said. “They keep coming back to see him because he doesn’t only teach them the G.E.D. He gets to know them and what they need and he helps them. When they have babies, or they get a job or they get married, they can’t wait to come up and tell him.”

Phares said Fortney has taught more than 600 students in his class throughout his tenure

“He is papa bear. What he’s meant to the organization is continuity because he’s been here through five program managers and two different grantees. He knows the program and (has kept) it going,” Phares said. “It’s been an honor working with him. He’s very caring.”

Fortney said he’s truly enjoyed his time with YouthBuild.

“It’s been 12 of the best years of my life. It’s been really nice to be here. People I’ve worked with are absolutely awesome. To all of our partners out in the community – thanks so much to them. They’re the bread and butter. They’re the people that just make things happen,” he said.

He said its been a treat to have the opportunity to influence so many of the region’s youth.

“They’re good kids. Some of them made it, some of them didn’t quite make it all the way through – but they all tried. They’re some of the best young people that there are. People talk about kids walking the street. These may have been those kids at one time but they got together enough to get here,” he said.

Fortney added he’s extremely proud of all the children he’s taught.

“I’m probably the only man in Elkins that has 700 kids. I go to Wal-Mart and I hear it from three or four different directions, ‘Hey Loren, Hey Loren,'” he said. “It’s just real nice for me to get to meet that many of the kids. I’m a good bit older than they are and they’ve kind of accepted me into their life and that makes me extremely happy.”

In his retirement, Fortney said he’s looking forward to spending time with his wife and doing things they want to do on their own time.

“It’s just time for me to do some things that I want to do. We’ve got a small farm. I want to build fence, I want to cut brush, I want to take care of my horses. I want to mow my yard and I want to do it on my schedule,” he said. “If I feel like mowing, I’ll mow. If I don’t want to mow, I won’t mow. If I want to go build a barn or clean out the stalls or something like that, that’s what I’m going to do.”

YouthBuild is a two-part, eight-month program that allows young people who’ve either dropped out of school and want to get their G.E.D. or want to improve their literacy and numeracy skills to do so while also learning how to build a house.

“They spend some time in the classroom and they spend time out on the job site building a house, usually for a low-income person, and there’s a stipend involved so it’s a paid education/ownership program. It’s a really cool program,” Karen Jacobson, executive director of the Randolph County Housing Authority, said.

The RCHA operates as the regional sponsor for the program.

According to it’s website, the goal of the program is to give young adults the tools to get a good job and keep it. YouthBuild works to develop the capacity of young adults to be responsible members of their families and communities by strengthening educational backgrounds, teaching marketable skills and entrepreneurship and instilling leadership values that relate to home, work and community.

“It can be a really crazy place to work but its also kind of a dream job for a teacher because most teachers really want to be able to connect to students one-to-one and really help them get where they want to go. Not a lot of teachers with classrooms full of 30 kids passing through every year get to be the one person that really makes a difference and Loren has been that one person,” Jacobson said. “He will be missed.”

Throughout the celebration, several former students approached Fortney to give him a hug and express their gratitude.

“There’s nothing special about what I do other than the fact I was just kinda here to ride herd on them and they finally figured out that an education is something they needed and they jumped right into and did it,” Fortney said.

Cliff Schoonover, president of the RCHA’s Board of Directors, disagreed with Fortney’s humble statement.

“I’ve watched him work – I’ve been here probably 10 years on the board and I (attribute) our success rate to him a lot. We’ve got a lot of good people, but I’ve watched him work with the kids… and I think that has brought the success rate up,” he said.

Officials said Youthbuild will kick off its first program of 2015 in late spring or early summer but a concrete date has not yet been set. To find out more about the program call 304-636-6495 or visit rchawv.org/youthbuild.html.

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