Creating sustainable communities while, raising children and guiding them towards opportunities and career paths is often not attainable without the help of parents, communities, and teachers. This notion is not lost on the citizens, leaders, and educators of Harper County as they have worked diligently to launch a successful future for their children and community.
The community leaders of Harper County have long embraced philanthropy and supporting new local businesses such as the Plumb Thicket Landfill that would be known as the catalyst for a long list of philanthropic ventures that would enrich the lives of their communities and change the trajectory of their children’s future.
Plumb Thicket Landfill is a member of the Sumner-Cowley Electric Cooperative and was established in Harper County in 2008. Due to the foresight of county commissioners and community members, an agreement between the two was secured to invest funds back into the county based on a percentage of the tonnage processed by the landfill.
With this goal in mind, the Harper County Community Foundation (HCCF) was tasked with the administration of the landfill’s revenue and a permanent endowment was established to fund the county wide Prepare To Launch (PTL) program.
The HCCF is comprised of a 12-member board consisting of ex city council members, school board members, and educators who are responsible for managing the funds and the established endowments and grants that are utilized for education, health care, community improvement, and rural development projects throughout Harper County.
Kevin Alexander, Executive Director of HCCF, explained that the income stream generated from the landfill led to the creation of a Prepare to Launch Endowment and Prepare to Launch Squad whose mission is to provide education funds to residents of Harper County, Kansas.
The original PTL program was established for Attica graduates when the HCCF was given a parcel of land north of Attica and place was needed to funnel the income generated. The program gained momentum with the additional Plumb Thicket Landfill revenue and the PTL endowment was offered to all Harper County graduates to offset the cost of higher education.
Initially, the funds were aimed at post-secondary pursuits such as college but have since broadened to include trade schools as well. Phase one of the endowment was initially provided $200k, but now gives $100K annually to fund the program and provide scholarships to local students.
In 2018 the scholarships totaled $250 per student however, as the endowment funds have grown over time, so has the amount of checks. This past years graduates each received $600 and the goal is to continue growing the funds. Alexander is hopeful for scholarships to eventually total $1,000 to $2,00 per student. These scholarships are available to Harper County residents attending out of county schools or attaining a comparable certification and can be redeemed up to 10 years after graduating high school.
“Everyone deserves a chance at a continued education. Most scholarships go to the top 10% but this allows everyone the chance. You never know which one will be a homerun and the $600 can change their lives to make an impact on the world,” Alexander explained. “You just don’t know the outcome. We are investing in our kids and the payoff is just a big question mark. Ultimately, you have to remain positive.”
Prepare To Launch Squad
The Harper County Prepare to Launch Squad is a leadership organization for students in Harper County Kansas to work with HCCF and assist with the oversight of the PTL endowment. The Prepare to Launch endowment and the Squad is funded by HCCF who oversees the program along with Britt Hedlund, Harper County Transition to Career (T2C) Coordinator, and Shelly Hansel, Harper County Community Development Director.
The Prepare to Launch Squad is comprised of eight students who apply and interview for the position and involves students with various interests and talents. Each year, two students per class for grades 9 through 12 are selected from Chaparral and Attica respectively, and the meetings alternate between campuses.
The squad is responsible for carrying out the mission of the overall PTL program. In order to grow the amount of money available each year, the squad assists in the management of funds as well as additional business and fundraising opportunities that may arise.
Each month, the squad meets and Kevin Alexander, Executive Director of HCCF reviews the Edward Jones stock list and collectively they decide what they want based on market performance.
“As endowment funds grow it is more attractive to be on the PTL Squad as the funds now total almost ½ million dollars that they are in charge of,” said Alexander. “The Prepare to Launch Squad has purchased stock in Amazon, Apple, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and from a financial manager perspective, they have non-exciting mutual funds which will be better than a savings account as far as return-on-investment long term.”
Students active on the squad state the leadership skills and network building opportunities they have been given while on the squad, have helped prepare them for their future endeavors.
“I participated on the PTL squad because it meant that I would be able to raise money for scholarships that I would eventually be able to apply for,” said Ryleigh Fly, Attica High School junior. “I also became part of this team so I could experience working with people that I don’t already know so I could be ready for my future.”
While the squad has increased in popularity as funds grow, students say seeing squad alumni benefit from the program also encourages them to be involved. Tyler Deviney is one such alum as a 2013 graduate of Attica High School and former PTL Squad member who launched his own career as a commercial pilot with Envoy Air.
“As a member of the PTL squad I gained leadership skills and was able to handle more responsibilities. With my education and degree comes a lot of debt but the PTL funds helped with some of the cost and every penny counts.”
Deviney also stated that while on the PTL squad, he worked concessions to help fund the PTL program for future students as well.
Transition to Career Program
The Transition to Career is a joint venture among Attica and Chaparral high schools that focuses on career readiness and opportunities for students to explore various career interest.
“The vision of T2C is to provide students with meaningful and relevant exposure to careers and experiences,” explained T2C Coordinator, Britt Hedlund. “Typically, they also line up with their passions and skill sets.”
Hedlund fits into the role not as a teacher but as a liaison between school and community. Her job is to expose kids to various careers to help them make informed decisions about their future and education. This includes providing guest speakers to highlight careers and introducing local job shadowing experiences and internships.
The T2C program is designed to place Harper County business and industry in direct contact with students. Business leaders are invited to business luncheons with the students at which time they explain career opportunities, job expectations, requirements, education or technical training needed and salary/compensation.
Enrolled juniors are guided to develop career interest and complete a day of job shadowing in their field of interest. As seniors, students will be asked to pick one career filed of interest for a semester long internship.
Currently, a partnership with WSU Tech, Medicine Lodge, Attica and Chaparral to offer welding classes on-site allows students to gain industry certification, and 10 free college hours while still in high school. Another successful program is offered through Pratt Community College and students are taught basics of automotive repair and mechanics.
Students in the T2C that college is attainable and having success in college level classes while still in high school gives them the confidence to keep going.
The T2C program conducts campus tours for students in the 8th grade as they visit a junior college, freshmen are introduced to technical schools, and sophomores are given the opportunity to tour the WSU campus. This process ensures that by their senior year students have been exposed to every faucet of post-secondary education and the realization whatever path they chose is attainable.
The T2C and Prepare to Launch programs are an integral piece to the transition of our children to be successful adults and the fiscal agent behind it is the Harper County Community Foundation.
Hedlund said, “the value of the T2C program is immeasurable in the amount of confidence students receive from learning skill sets and having the ability to transition to careers within their community with an idea of skills needed to pursue those jobs.”
Previous HCCF grant recipients include the T2C program, town library, road improvements, after school programs, teachers, performing arts, welding programs and police departments.
If you have questions regarding the Prepare to Launch program, T2C opportunities, or would like to establish a charitable legacy, please visit the HCCF website www.harpercofoundation.org.
Businesses that would like an opportunity to be involved with the T2C program can contact coordinator Britt Hedlund at email@example.com.