A bright future

February 14, 2018

Newaygo County Area Promise Zone

Last year, as Dr. Lori Tubbergen Clark talked about the Promise Zone at a parent meeting, she noticed a woman in the front row who seemed concerned. Lori paused for questions and the woman raised her hand.

“It sounds too good to be true,” she said, struggling to believe someone was simply going to pay for her child’s college education. Assured there was no catch, the mother in the front row began to cry.

“Just the relief for that parent,” said Lori, NC RESA superintendent and chair of the Promise Zone Authority Board, describing the moment. “This really is a game-changer. It’s a huge shift in thinking. It used to be ‘If I go to college.’ Now it’s ‘When I go.’”

Promise Zones are a nationwide effort to create a tuition-free path to an associate degree for students living and graduating within their geographic boundaries. Zones can capture half the growth in state education property taxes to help fund the scholarships, but they must first prove they can pay for the initial years on their own.

While still working toward their goal, the Newaygo County Area Promise Zone has already raised $1.3 million and was able to award the first scholarships to the class of 2017.

“This is a generous community,” said Lori. “We were able to fund 104 kids in less than one year. People are looking to us as an example.”

The Community Foundation joined the push by awarding more than $650,000 in grants to the Promise Zone. Staff have also provided fundraising and marketing assistance.

“None of this would be possible without that support,” said Lori.

Moving forward, Lori is excited to see the impact continue to spread. She has heard from employers who now see a path to finding qualified local employees and hopes it will encourage more young people to stay in the area. And of the long list of exciting moments to come, one rises to the top.

“I just want to see that first group of graduates,” said Lori. “I want to see them be completers and I’m excited to see some of those completers stay here. I’m looking forward to seeing their dreams come true.”