WILMINGTON, N.C. — A Wilmington organization devoted to helping at-risk youth is pairing with another group and using a technical tool to show them a different path, and this journey begins in a virtual world for them.
Voyage of Wilmington is a nonprofit that focuses on helping youth, who are systemically disadvantaged, to find a brighter future that involves achieving goals and a career.
“We are a meet-you-as-you-are, come-as-you-are type facility,” Genna Wirth, the executive director, said. “We do not judge. You can be purple, black, blue, red, white, whatever. You come in our doors; we don’t judge based on your income levels, what you’re wearing, who you like. It’s all about being accepting here.”
They’ve partnered with other organizations in the community — many in the Hemenway Center Youth Enrichment Zone — that all work to create successful young people, regardless of their circumstances in life.
“We have some sort of program whether it's through Voyage or a partner organization that's going to help your child connect to their individual path for success and the most important thing is we do not define success for you,” Wirth said. “We listen to what success means to you and we help you get there.”
PV2R is one of their partner organizations that created a virtual reality program geared toward youth in the juvenile justice system and underprivileged youth in the community. It uses simulation to build trust between students and their real-life coach, who quickly becomes a mentor.
“The technology isn’t something to fear,” LeVal Snoddy, the creator of PV2R, said. “It’s simply the tool to help catapult those that are maybe less fortunate or have less access to possibilities they couldn’t have imagined before.”
Snoddy came up with the program while working at New Hanover County’s Juvenile Detention Facility. He was determined to find a way to reach youth before they ended up behind bars.
“The concept was simple; to immerse the kids in different environments to help them envision a different possibility outside of the ones they are currently immersed in,” Snoddy said.
Wirth’s passion comes from her own experience in life from a privileged background, which gave her every advantage. At Voyage, her constant goal is to break the cycle of discrimination and provide kids with endless opportunities.
“Those are the type of things that we’re trying to do, bring these kids outside of their immediate environment, maybe what they’ve known, and show them that there is so much potential for them,” Wirth said. “There is good in the world and this violence that they’re seeing around them, that’s not the end all be all. They have another way out, and Voyage can be that way out for them.”