The following Op-Ed by CFES Brilliant Pathways Board Member Lawson Allen originally appeared in the Plattsburgh Press Republican on November 29, 2018.
My husband, Clint, and I have been coming to the Adirondacks for almost 50 years, continuing a tradition my grandmother started in 1903, when she and her family first summered in Essex.
Like so many others, we are drawn to the region by its beauty and unspoiled wilderness.
In recent years, we have become familiar with the plight of many full-time residents in the area who struggle to make ends meet.
Just as in other parts of rural America, there is precious little work to sustain families here, and it can be especially difficult without a post-secondary education.
Not only are we seeing firsthand struggles that are uniquely rural, but we are also hearing about them in the news and reading about these challenges in books such as “Hillbilly Elegy.”
We’re troubled by the fact that too many young people in rural communities are being ignored: They are attending and graduating from college at lower rates than their urban peers due in large part to higher rates of poverty. While 48 of the nation’s 50 most impoverished counties are rural, fewer than a third of our rural youth attain post-secondary degrees.
Given that the new jobs being created require at least some post-secondary education, these metrics tell a story about young people who will be left behind, a narrative that should be of great concern to everyone.
From our Essex home, we look across Lake Champlain to Vermont, where there is a statewide effort to boost college attendance from 60 to 70 percent.
Because not enough young Vermonters will have the education and training they need, leaders there project a shortfall of 132,000 workers by 2025.
There’s a similar story in other rural states, and the solution is education.
Despite these troubling statistics, philanthropy in rural areas is profoundly lacking: For every dollar targeted for youth and education, only 5 cents supports rural schools and students.
Clint and I have spent our lives supporting education because we know from personal experience how important it is to the success of young people.
I worked as a counselor for three decades in schools outside Boston, where I saw first-hand the link between education and opportunity.
Clint was the first in his family to attend college and was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship to Harvard, which changed his life trajectory.
He would become the CEO of Blockbuster, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and other organizations, while also having served on more than 20 public and numerous private company boards of directors.
We want to ensure that every child in the Adirondacks has the opportunity to graduate from high school and attain a post-secondary degree or credential of value.
We believe the best way to do that is by supporting the work of organizations like College for Every Student Brilliant Pathways — the only national nonprofit of its kind located in a rural community.
CFES, located in Essex, has helped over 100,000 students become college and career ready from across the United States and in 45 schools in rural New York.
To pay it forward, we have endowed two scholarships at Harvard and created a local scholarship that has helped a half-dozen students in Essex and Willsboro go to college.
Our only stipulation for students applying for the Allen Scholarship is that they participate in the CFES Student-Brilliant Pathways program at their school.
We are also co-hosting a 2019 summer gala with CFES in Essex focused on rebuilding rural America by strategically targeting dollars to change life trajectories and foster economic and civic vitality in some of America’s most needy areas, such as New York and Vermont.
Clint and I have been fortunate enough to provide financial support to organizations like CFES that are focused on helping young people succeed in rural areas like the Adirondack region.
But there are many ways to give, including by serving as a student mentor, providing a job-shadowing experience for a student, tutoring and other volunteer opportunities.
By joining forces to support our young people, we are ensuring their future success and that of the entire region.
Lawson Allen is a board member of CFES Brilliant Pathways and the Adirondack Community Foundation.