WASHINGTON—Reconnecting McDowell has received an impressive list of financial contributions, services and programs since the public-private partnership was launched nearly a year ago to revitalize McDowell County schools and communities, but one of the most surprising and heartfelt gifts came out of the blue this month.
After Bob Brown, Reconnecting McDowell's project manager, gave a routine presentation about the partnership to the West Virginia Association of Student Councils, the student leaders asked him to step into a separate room, where they presented him with about 120 backpacks filled with school supplies, clothing and other personal items for McDowell students and their families.
"This could well be the most heartwarming gift of all because it's about students helping students. Nothing could be more moving. The compassionate and generous character of these young people personifies the West Virginia spirit," Brown said.
Isabella Leon, the student president of the West Virginia Association of Student Councils, said the group heard about Reconnecting McDowell and knew right away it wanted to help. "We chose this project to give back to people less fortunate in our area. WVASC is a family and we want to share that bond throughout the state," Leon said.
In addition to donating backpacks for McDowell students, the student council association announced it will host a one-week summer camp at each of the two county high schools. With few recreational options for most students in the isolated Appalachian hollows, the summer camps will be a welcome opportunity for students and their families. In addition, the group plans to help develop a student council structure for McDowell.
Reconnecting McDowell has made much progress in the 10 months since it was launched to bring together government, non-profits, labor unions, corporations and foundations to collaborate on ways to improve the county's low-performing schools and reinvigorate a region that has fallen on extremely hard times since the coal industry went bust more than 30 years ago.