Help iBelieve Foundation

I remember the day I began to consider that I might have a little talent for writing — and it had nothing to do with newspapers. It was at an academic summer camp, hosted at a college, in which high school students got the chance to experience a bit of college life with either a creative writing/literature course or a math/science course. My first summer, I went for writing, and ended up winning a poetry prize.

(Rereading that poem these days is a bit awkward. I guess we truly do forget what it feels like to be a teenager; and maybe that’s for the best.)

For the following summer, I had to find a way to participate on the math/science side … so I and a friend decided to design an experiment in which we would determine whether male or female rats were faster at learning mazes. (Females did better … but that might have had something to do with the quality of male rats they let we high school students use. One of them slept for four weeks straight, I am fairly certain.)

Much of my high school career has faded from memory, but those two summer sessions are as sharp in my mind as ever. Were it not for that very early assurance that I was good enough at something to be commended by adults who barely knew me, I might have made a different decision about my college studies and career.

There is an organization at work in Ohio and West Virginia that is bringing a similar experience to high school students now: the iBelieve Foundation. A couple of its representatives were telling me about the program last week, and I’m sure they got tired of me interjecting with memories they had sparked.

Belpre native Patrick Klein, who is now associate head coach for the women’s basketball team at Ohio State, founded the program as a way to bring opportunity to students in Appalachia who might benefit from summer camp experiences similar to those he enjoyed as a high school student. He also wanted to find a way to encourage kids to become first-generation college students — and graduates. The idea is to show these kids there are people throughout the region who believe in them; who know they can make a difference.

There are smaller leadership summits and iLEAD conferences, too, but the marquee events are the iBelieve Foundation and Ohio Association of Student Councils summer camps to develop leadership, organizational and interpersonal skills. The camps are hosted by West Liberty University, Muskingum University and Wright State University.

And here is where the rest of us come in. Last year, 182 West Virginia students participated in the summer camps. It costs approximately $300 per student — and organizers hope to be able to continue to do that at no cost to the students.

Mid-Ohio Valley residents will get a chance to help that cause when the iBelieve Foundation hosts its annual benefit dinner at the Blennerhassett Hotel at 6 p.m. Oct. 5. Organizers told me the event will include performances from a few local students — singing, ballet dancing and more; and speeches from local students who will likely do a better job explaining the benefits of the program than we could.

More information about the dinner and a link to reserve your seat are at theibelievefoundation.com.

Kids growing up in Appalachia today are facing challenges many of us never had to face. For some of them, a program like this — hearing “I believe you can do this!” maybe for the first time — could be life-changing. And, don’t forget, when these kids are confident enough to do better, West Virginia (and Ohio) will do better, too.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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