Glynis Board Published

Operation YURT: Building Youth Resilience Through Food, Storytelling & Community In The Ohio Valley


West Virginia is one of the few states where the population is dropping and life expectancy is among the lowest in the country.  Communities are shrinking, aging, and experiencing some of the highest opioid overdose rates in the country. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, one of every four kids in West Virginia has experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences — a rate almost 20 percent higher than the national average. West Virginia Public Broadcasting has engaged with organizations in the Northern Panhandle region with an eye toward addressing these disparities.

The resulting program is still in its infancy. WVPB together with Ohio County Schools, Grow Ohio Valley, Oglebay Institute and several other organizations have all contributed to development and deployment Operation YURT (Youth Resilience Training): a trauma-informed, school-based, outdoor education program teaching storytelling, nutrition, and emotional intelligence.

At West Virginia Public Broadcasting we know the value of storytelling. And we aren’t the only ones. Researchers have found that deeply rooted in the human species is a need to connect, empathize, and understand each other, and that narratives are powerful and important tools which can either manipulate or harness human potential.

The programming at Operation YURT seeks to tap into the positive potential storytelling can have in a community. Identified student interests guide storytelling efforts. Community members who champion those interests are invited to be interviewed. In this way we aim to celebrate and learn from our community by tapping into and highlighting the expertise found therein.

These are some of the stories that have been produced as a result.

A Community Project

Operation YURT is a community effort to lift up youth voices. It began in 2018 when West Virginia Public Broadcasting teamed up with Grow Ohio Valley and Ohio County Schools in an eight-week, youth reporting research project, Operation TIPI (trauma-informed pilot intervention). From there, the project grew into a year-long pilot, gaining partners and support along the way:

  • Driehorst Family Foundation – The Driehorst Family Foundation has provided important programming funds, allowing for key guest educators.
  • Grow Ohio Valley – Operation Yurt is an educational program led and staffed primarily by Grow Ohio Valley. The program takes place on former derelict housing property overlooking downtown Wheeling that Grow Ohio Valley has reclaimed and turned into a small urban farm.
  • Hess Family Foundation – The Hess Family Foundation has provided means to heat the yurt through cold months.
  • JB Chambers Foundation – The J.B. Chambers Foundation has provided critical funding to build a yurt onsite. This unconventional, round classroom provides a clean learning space that breaks normal for kids, and provides shelter while keeping kids closely connected to the elements.
  • Oglebay Institute and the Rural Arts Collaborative – Oglebay Institute named Glynis Board a 2019/2020 Rural Arts Collaborative (RAC) artist in residence. As such, Board has focused on teaching storytelling to Ohio County students during Operation YURT, culminating in a series of stories listed here for broadcast. RAC is funded by the Benedum Foundation and aims to bring professional teaching artists into schools during the content day to enhance the arts education experience.
  • Ohio County Schools – A critical partner, Ohio County Schools has been a supportive and engaged collaborator. Members of the Ohio County Board of Education and the administration have provided thorough guidance, support, and structure to allow students the opportunity to engage with Operation YURT in meaningful and educational ways.
  • Schenk Charitable Trust – Among the first to sign on to help get this project running, the Schenk Charitable Trust provided funds which have supplied programming support, staffing, classroom and food supplies, and warm outdoor apparel for students.
  • West Virginia Public Broadcasting – WVPB’s education reporter and Wheeling resident Glynis Board initiated the project as the culminating product of a Master’s in Education through West Liberty University. Board has fostered community partnerships ever since to see the program grow and led the youth reporting aspects of Operation YURT.
  • WVU Extensions – In addition to expertise and resources, WVU Extensions has provided engaging guided outdoor gardening curriculum.
  • Youth Services Systems – Youth Services Systems houses the Ohio County Learning Center and has been a founding partner, providing expert guidance and resources.

Credit Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
College students and public school students mingle and discuss life passions and interests on a chilly day in February.

Project Overview

Operation YURT (Youth Resilience Training) is a trauma-informed, school-based, outdoor education program teaching storytelling, nutrition, and emotional intelligence. The program strives to be responsive to all students, but especially those overcoming adversity.


Credit Ella Jennings / Grow Ohio Valley
Grow Ohio Valley
Creativity is encouraged with journals, instruments and art supplies. Working on murals and song lyrics are common YURT activities.

Identified Ohio County public school students meet for a full school day once a week throughout the school year at Grow Ohio Valley’s “Lincoln Meadow.” A former site of derelict housing projects, Lincoln Meadow is now a reclaimed urban farm, complete with a spring-fed irrigation system, two high tunnels, a yurt, and intensive organic grow-beds. The site overlooks the Ohio River valley and downtown Wheeling, West Virginia.

The objective of Operation YURT is to improve academic success, wellbeing, and create a love of self and learning within student populations. One of the key ways this is accomplished is through storytelling. Students’ interests are identified, community experts in those interests are invited to visit. Students are then able to conduct and record interviews with these community members. Then, paired with an adult storyteller, they craft a story to share with their larger community.

In this way, students are exposed to expertise within their community as they develop important 21st century skills such as communication and collaboration.