In May of the year 2000, my wife and I got two phone calls within a week of each other. We had and still are advocates for rural schools and communities. You might look us up on Google if you put in rural education Pennsylvania. The calls came separately from two very wealthy men. The one was Andy McKelvey, CEO of Monster.com, a very successful job site. We were not aware of Andy, but somehow he was aware of us.
The other call came from H. Gerry Lenfest, who had just sold his cable company, Suburban Cable to Comcast for 7.6 billion dollars. As you might imagine, we were not used to hanging around with these kinds of people. Both of us were asked to start scholarship programs for needy rural children. The Lenfest Foundation was a prep school program. Jerry claimed that the prep school that he went to saved his life. His dad was a salesman and was not home very much. His mom had passed away.
We sent over 100 students to four prep schools so that they could be prepared to go to excellent colleges. It did work.
The McKelvey program was centered in three states; Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. By the time we finished in 2008(the year Andy passed away); we had put about 900 young men and women through college. We are still in touch with most of the students. Andy’s idea was to help needy rural kids with entrepreneurial skills, so that they might go back home to start businesses.
Without seeming to gush about these two gents, they both taught me a very valuable lesson that you might want to take to your hearts. Andy and Gerry both told me over the course of our scholarship program that their aims were NOT to change systems. Yes, I am sure they would have liked to, but they thought that helping individual students was where their money would do the most good.
I believe that they were correct in every way possible. As we track the students that we have worked with, we see all kinds of possibilities for the future. Maybe these kids will change systems in some way. Andy and Jerry both believed that these youngsters, some are already in their 30’s would pay it forward. Yes, some of them already have.
Somehow, both of these people learned this lesson from happenings in their lives. I know that Andy wanted to be a moderating force in the gun control discussions. He was not successful. Gerry learned from his boss Walter Annenberg, who began a program to change city and rural schools. It was not successful.
I listen to your public voices about changing how schools work, how to change how government works, how to support candidates for various elected and appointed offices. How to train former military men and women to run school districts and colleges and many other attempts to change the way systems work in the United States.
Messrs. Koch, Adelson, Gates, Broad, Zuckerberg, Bloomberg and Walton family have your monied plans worked. I have positive feelings that you are using your resources to make things better in our country. Is it working? Have you figured out why not? For those who have started scholarship programs, bless you. For those who have invested in the cure for cancer and other horrible diseases, bless you. Please stop trying to alter the huge systems that we have built up over the years. Concentrate on helping youngsters go to school and to alleviate their school debts. That would be a good deed in the strictest sense of those words. And that’s all I have to say about that.