Many of you have no doubt seen the recent stories about several families in High Point who have made significant gifts to a Guilford County Initiative called Say Yes to Education.

High Point has led the charge in developing support for this program which has the capacity to totally transform our community educationally, economically and culturally and do so in a relatively short amount of time. Thanks to the leadership of David S. Miller and Ann Busby, both long time innovators and advocates for education, the dream of sending every child who graduates from public school to a two year or four year institution is becoming a reality. I [Paul Lessard] see this initiative as one of the most significant opportunities High Point will experience in this generation and here are some reasons why:

Communities are like sharks – unless they are constantly moving forward they die. If High Point is going to continue to grow and prosper, we must develop a deeper appreciation for and commitment to higher education. Historically with the work opportunities our manufacturing economy once provided, education was not considered a priority for a significant segment of our community. Those days are over forever and it is incumbent upon all of us to teach our young people that attending college and tech schools is essential for future success and self-sufficiency.

While most folks know that Say Yes to Education provides students with final tuition funds, they may not realize they also underwrite (to the tune of $15 million over 5 years!) a critically important infrastructure that creates “wrap-around services” for every child from K through 12. Say Yes National learned early on there are many issues other than academics that keep students from successfully traversing the K-12 track. Things like domestic violence, legal issues, lack of food, medical and psychological needs, etc. can derail a child who otherwise is a good student. Say Yes, through their “wrap-around services” brings resources to the schools to resolve them before they become deal breakers for students.

Altruism and economic development can and must dovetail in a community to create a robust, progressive environment. Other cities who have experienced Say Yes to Education will tell you the program has served as a catalyst for many positive economic changes bringing people and businesses back into communities that were once faltering. In Buffalo, realtors actually have Say Yes logos on their signs telling potential buyers that scholarships to college come with the purchase of a home in that community. Recruiting new businesses and professionals becomes easier when people learn about the Say Yes to Education commitment in the community and the scholarships on the back end. Consider this – within 2 years we will have children whose families have been on welfare for three generations suddenly graduating with technical degrees that will enable them to earn as much as $25,000 a year! Imagine the impact that occurs when these students become tax payers and are providing incoming businesses with an educated workforce.

The cultural change that comes with the Say Yes commitment is significant because it invigorates the community on so many different levels. Education creates economic independence, better jobs beget a higher quality of life, new businesses moving into a community enhance the economy, and more career opportunities for young people build our future. High Point has always risen to the occasion when a need is identified and this opportunity to educate and economically emancipate our future generations may be the greatest opportunity our community has ever been offered.

You will be hearing more about Say Yes in the weeks ahead and each of you will have chance to support it with your advocacy and resources. Opportunities like this come along once or twice in a generation – how cool will it be to say, years from now, that you belonged to the generation that changed it all for the better?

Paul Lessard 8/16/15

High Point Enterprise