WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) – The words “Once Upon a Time” resonate feelings of fairytale, fantasy, and hope.  

This is the theme of the 12th Annual Wheeling SleepOut, hosted by Youth Service System Wheeling.  

Teams can sign up to build temporary structures for the evening, and spend a night outdoors, while raising funds to support the YSS Transitional Living Program. 

Tucker Riggleman from YSS Wheeling says that this event is part of National Runaway Prevention Month, and it gives an insight into a fraction of what homeless youth actually experience. 

”I think it’s really eye-opening for a lot of people because you know it’s kind of one of those hidden problems in the community and something that we don’t always see, you know, youth without shelter, and this kind of brings light to it and we find that people have a lot of compassion for that, of course, helping kids in the community so, it’s been really good for raising awareness but also raising the funds that literally directly help those youth.”

Tucker Riggleman – Digital Media and Communications Coordinator, YSS Wheeling

The transitional living program works to provide shelter, life skills, and employment opportunities for youth ages 17 to 21. 

These are typically youth who have aged out of the system of care, and Street Outreach Coordinator, Dorothy Matusic, says that this is a bigger issue than many realize. 

”These kids are growing up, becoming adults, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily have the resources and the abilities to succeed in the community on their own. So, YSS is the village, you know, so we’re cultivating a village and a support system and so to have your kids that are fortune enough to go home at night and have a nice bed and wake up in the morning to have breakfast with family is huge.”

Dorothy Matusic – Street Outreach Coordinator

The Miracle League Field off of I-470 will be filled with structures built by teams who register online, and Tucker says that although this is for a good cause, the creativity and fun people bring are what make this event so memorable year after year. 

”This year we expect to see a lot of castles, or fairytale themed items like that, so it’ll be fun, you know, hopefully it’s not too cold, but that also is kind of the point to see what these youth experience.”

Tucker Riggleman – Digital Media and Communications Coordinator, YSS Wheeling

So, the goal of this event is that with every “Once Upon a Time,” it’s always possible to have a “Happily Ever After.”