Help your neighbors help themselves with an education

When I graduated from Edmonds High School in 1975, I took it for granted that when I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, Edmonds Community College would be there.

In 2010, we can’t take our colleges for granted. Each quarter, enrollment grows while there are hiring freezes and budget cuts. Edmonds Community College now serves 20,000 students annually with 20 percent fewer resources.

I’m concerned about the success of these thousands of individuals seeking to better themselves in our community. That’s why I volunteer on the Edmonds Community College Foundation board to support the college, its staff and students. Often, the first thing people say me to when I share this with them is, “How did you get roped into that?”

In fact, I have to help. Many people in our community are unemployed and in severe financial straits because of job losses. If somebody cares enough to take the time to make things better for themselves by seeking an education, then I must make time for them.

Lives are at stake.

Every year at our foundation auction, our main fund-raiser, we invite a student speaker to tell us what it’s all about. The story is always the same.

She says, “Without this scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my schooling and my goal.”

He says, “With this scholarship, I was able to change my life.”

It’s never just about that one person’s life, however. Parents inspire their children. Whole families are lifted by education and opportunity.

The community college creates so much outreach to other people and their families. Of all the things I could do, supporting my local college is the most helpful to the most people.

I know this from personal experience as well. When I decided to become the first in my family (and the first of six siblings) to attend college, I didn’t have the financial means to attend a four-year school. Fortunately, Edmonds Community College was there for me — a mile from my home. I worked at a marine services firm on the Edmonds waterfront while completing a fast track medical assisting program.

My community college education was a stepping-stone into the working world. It gave me a great base to grow from as I raised my children and then went into real estate. My education gave me the drive and confidence to move to another level.

Now I’m fortunate to be at a point in my life where I can give back. Without the experience I had at Edmonds Community College, this wouldn’t be the case.

As hard as it was for me to study while working, I was one of the lucky ones because I had the loving support of my family. It’s even harder for students today. Costs — books, transportation, tuition and fees — have gone up dramatically.

We assume that our public schools are publically funded. In fact, the state pays just over half of the cost. Private dollars pay the rest.

We assume that students or their parents can foot the bill. The reality is many parents are just scraping by and going back to school, too.

Knowing what $250 means to a student who is just getting started — often the difference between finishing the degree that can help get them to a better job, or not — is why I do what I do.

Money given to the community college does not pay for extras. Donations directly support people’s lives as they work to achieve the next level of success.

When they get there, the community benefits from their employment and achievement. Often, they are so grateful, they’ll give back to the community — as I have done — for decades.

Facing great need can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Come to the auction. Meet a student and see the results of your investment in our community. Ask me if you have questions. You can be of great help.

Realtor Jean Sittauer-Gouge is vice-chair on the Board of Directors for the Edmonds Community College Foundation and has volunteered for nine years. The Foundation auction will be 6 p.m. April 24 at Edmonds Community College. For more information, visit foundation.edcc.edu.

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