The following editorial appeared in the Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, on June 3:
“We are the future, and now is the time to follow our dreams.”
That may be a high school commencement clich, but it is one we would all hope to be true.
However, for too many teens in our region, it is not always easy to see those possibilities. The struggles their parents have faced and their own life experience may have limited their goals and already led to some bad choices, such as dropping out of school.
But a mentoring program in McDowell County shows that the input of some caring adults can help change those perspectives, according to a report .
The Broader Horizons program grew out of the public-private Reconnecting McDowell project set up by the American Federation of Teachers to improve opportunities in the county. This year 17 of the 18 students picked a year ago will graduate from Mount View High in Welch and River View High in Bradshaw. The 18th is a junior.
Many of those new graduates have focused college plans in place and credit the program for helping them find the direction or in some cases the financial means to make it happen. In McDowell, that is no easy task.
The county was once one of the biggest coal producing areas in the country with a population of almost 99,000 in 1950. Today it is home to about 20,000 people with some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the state and many of the social ills to go with it.
Those difficult circumstances have contributed to very high truancy and drop-out rates in area schools. Even among those who graduate from high school, only about 25 percent go on to college.
The mentoring program is working to change those odds. Students not only take trips to see colleges and the nation’s capital, but more importantly meet regularly with an adult mentor to discuss school, life issues and choices. Among the inspiring stories is Rayven Bailey, who is pregnant, but still has plans to major in elementary education at Bluefield State College and return to McDowell County to help the next generation.
“There are kids here that have parents that have drug habits and they don’t have anybody to really look up to,” Bailey told The AP. “So I’d like to be that person for them.”
Her powerful story underscores the importance of mentors and the impact those volunteers can have on young lives and even generations to come. If you feel that calling, check with the United Way of the River Cities’ Education Matters program and one of the area other dropout prevention efforts in our region to see how you can help.