The Power of Opportunity: Reconnecting McDowell County to a Brighter Horizon

Apr 30, 2014 4:05 PM ET

The Power of Opportunity: Reconnecting McDowell County to a Brighter Horizon

By Scott Sapperstein, Executive Director, AT&T Public Affairs

McDowell County sits in the mountains of southern West Virginia – an area still recovering from the departure of the coal mining industry and jobs it provided. This county, and its residents, are often faced with the realities of economic hardship. This is a county deserving of a new era and a fresh start, which is exactly what the Reconnecting McDowell initiative is designed to provide.

Reconnecting McDowell is a long-term, comprehensive effort to improve educational opportunities as a pathway to a more vibrant economic future. The program, supported by over 125 partners, is committed to addressing the complex problems that have permeated the county for decades. The program is made up of initiatives aimed at lifting the opportunities for residents of McDowell County.

This week, AT&T announced its support of the Reconnecting McDowell initiative through a 3 year, $300,000 commitment to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) for the Brighter Horizons program. This program will enable about 20 McDowell County high school students each year, who are at risk of dropping out, to explore a world beyond their community through mentors, college campus visits and job shadowing programs in Charleston, WV and Washington, D.C. The students are selected by their principals based primarily on their motivation to prepare for a productive future. These young men and women are truly remarkable.

On Wednesday, J. Michael Schweder, president of AT&T Mid-Atlantic, participated in an event with West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin; Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Gayle Manchin, the president of the West Virginia State Board of Education, to announce this support with several McDowell students who will be taking part in the Brighter Horizons program.

The support of so many people for this initiative, especially people who are directing the future of West Virginia, was a powerful thing to see – but nothing was more moving than the words of one of the students who will be taking part in the Brighter Horizons program.

This student is a bright young woman motivated by the hopes for a promising future. I was struck by her disbelief that people were paying attention to McDowell County, to the struggle the county has endured and to the future that lies ahead for her and her peers. She spoke passionately about the mentors she has in her school – people like her guidance counselor, who pushed her and others to get involved with Reconnecting McDowell so that they can embrace their full potential. This student and her guidance counselor are emblematic of the forces driving McDowell County to achieve brighter horizons for the county’s residents.

This young woman’s story and her passion reminded me of why we at AT&T remain so committed to education and opportunities it provides. The Brighter Horizons program is the kind of program that makes AT&T Aspire special and impactful, and I am excited to see its impact on these students and on McDowell County. I am truly proud of this announcement and of all the work we do here at AT&T to build healthy, connected and thriving communities.