As the newest member of the Youth Odyssey family, it seemed fitting for me to interview one of the newest members of our Board of Directors, Mr. Wade Secrest, to get some insight into what drew him to Youth Odyssey.
Growing up as the son of military man who understood the importance of hard work, Wade started helping out his father when he was just 12 years old with the family business; running a farm supply, chemical store and helping farmers with insurance needs. When Wade was 19 he realized that his passion was in helping others and chose to focus on the insurance aspect of the business. Little did he know, he would continue his insurance business for over 20 years. Currently Wade is the “owner, operator, secretary and trash man” of the Secrest Agency. That’s where his Youth Odyssey story begins….
About seven years ago, one of our board members, James Gourley, was looking into acquiring health insurance for his employees when he met Mr. Wade Secrest and decided he was the man for the job. Over time Wade had found out about Youth Odyssey and, in 2009, chose to sponsor one camper a year with our summer programming. One of the things that he found “most intriguing about Youth Odyssey was the fact that it helped at-risk youth in the community and was a local organization.” As a child, Wade’s parents instilled in him the importance of giving back to one’s community:
“I talked with my family awhile back about [donating to charities]. They always try to contribute locally, where it makes a difference and you know the money’s going towards the cause and not the corporation or the salaries. I know that with Youth Odyssey the money is serving the mission [so] I try to help where I can.”
Though giving to a local organization aligned with his ideals, Wade was also impressed with how Youth Odyssey uses the outdoors to help shape young minds and attitudes. During our lunch, Wade reflected on his experiences camping with his family and how it taught him many life skills; and that exposure helped to shape him into the man he is today. As we spoke, it became very clear to me that Wade felt passionately about how children today are losing that connection to the outdoors. The same connection that enabled him to grow and challenge himself as a young man:
“The more I thought about it, there are a lot of kids who don’t have [the opportunity to get outside and challenge themselves] and this is primarily what [Youth Odyssey] is designed to do. Our kids are our future and we need to invest energy in them. Right now, especially in the younger generation, I’m seeing a lapse in cognitive ability. A de-socialization of our youth with so many technological distractions. The kids are at a disadvantage and I think it tends to stunt social development. [Youth Odyssey] programs reiterate the need for [in-person socialization]. They go out, they get kids together, they take them on [ropes] courses, camping trips and teach them how to [make good choices]. It’s not even the tying of the knot, it’s the being together and having to figure stuff out on their own and work as a team to accomplish that. That’s what hit me and I like, about Youth Odyssey. I’ve seen the results and the statistics on how the kids in our programs have changed. The kids today have more avenues in which to go down a bad path. There’s a lot of temptation out there for kids. Through Youth Odyssey, [you can see the youth that they connect with] they make a difference with and I think that’s awesome.”
With the understanding and support of Youth Odyssey’s mission to promote positive youth development through adventure programming, in 2014, Wade asked James Gourley what else he could do for Youth Odyssey. “That’s when James invited me to the board. When he asked me I didn’t know to what capacity he wanted me to help. He just said ‘come join the board.’” Having never been on a board before, Wade wasn’t sure what to expect but “it’s been a neat, evolving experience for [him].”
Now on the board for about a year, Wade is still trying to find ways to contribute in his new role. This year he was able to use his insurance connections to donate to our summer camp fundraiser and hopes to make them an annual donor as well as bringing in more donors through educating other businesses on Youth Odyssey’s mission.