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Selling hope: Yale alumni help W.Va. students prepare for college

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sandy Potter grew up in a coal camp in Logan County and then went on to receive degrees from West Virginia University and Yale University, despite a slew of obstacles. Now she's back in West Virginia to give the state's high school students hope to reach for their goals.

"I really believe that in this state, there's an inner excitement in the people -- an inner strength and energy. These kids just need a little direction," said Potter, 71, of Florida. "I'm here to tell them that it doesn't matter where you're from; you can go anywhere and do anything."

Potter is one of more than 40 volunteers from the Yale Alumni Service Corps in the Charleston area this week to help lead College Summit Workshops, where students will receive everything from counseling to writing lessons to help them prepare for postsecondary education.

This is the first domestic trip for the Yale Alumni Service Corps, which is made up of Yale alumni who travel the world to help communities in need. J.B Schramm, a Yale alumnus, founded College Summit in 1993. College Summit is a national nonprofit that partners with community leaders to create "a culture of expectations."

More than 130 students from across the state will attend the workshops at the West Virginia University Institute of Technology through Sunday.

"Some kids may not have the support from home to start their journey. We're here to tell them they're going to have things happen, but you don't give up. You just keep going, regardless. You're always better in the end for it," Potter said. "I could've given up a million times, but I didn't."

During the program, students will learn how to write personal essays for college applications, research other post-secondary options, and learn about avenues to find financial aid, in addition to receiving training to become "Peer Leaders."

Jon Charles, executive director for West Virginia's branch of College Summit, called the summer workshops "one of the most transformational experiences.

 "You see individual kids being transported. We're basically selling them hope," he said. "We have a lot of kids come from backgrounds where they've never considered going to college because nobody in their family has ever gone or there aren't books in their home.

"When you come from a place where no one talks about GPA or majors, those are foreign concepts," he said. "So our students feel intimidated. To be able to move individuals beyond that is pretty powerful."

For more information, visit www.collegesummit.org/regions/west-virginia.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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