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Promises Kept, Celebration Planned: Von Washington & The Kalamazoo Promise

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Kalamazoo Promise

Kalamazoo is an honest community. Here we keep our promises, value education, and work hard.

Few in the community are more connected to those values than Von Washington, Jr., the unofficial face of The Kalamazoo Promise. Officially he is the Executive Director for Community Relations for the nearly 10-year-old scholarship program available to all Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates.

Washington said he enjoys the wide array of people, art, museums, and colleges in Kalamazoo.

"Many would like to believe that if you work hard, you can succeed. In Kalamazoo you feel like you have the opportunities to work hard and be successful," he said.

"Kalamazoo is about generosity, The Promise, and education. All those attributes make it a place that I am proud to raise children in."

Unveiled in November 2005, The Promise is a source of pride for both Washington and the community in general.

"We have created common language that the community understands," Washington said. "The Promise is a promise to our community and our generous donors are committed to this gift into perpetuity."

"Being in education most of my life I've had the opportunity to work with adults and kids at all levels. The work at The Promise allows me to help create access to tools that will help students create a successful life through education. I do believe that it is education that opens doors to life's opportunities."

Working for The Promise has its challenges, Washington admitted.

"We are a long way from getting all graduates to believe they can use The Promise. We need to engage with our community to align resources that will help our students remove hurdles that keep them from accessing The Promise."

As the organization approaches a major milestone, The Promise hopes its 10-Year Anniversary Community Celebration will be an opportunity for festive reflection and re-dedication to expanding The Promise's reach and success.

Set for Saturday, Aug. 15, form 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Bronson Park, the event is open to the entire community.

"Everyone is invited to the celebration in Bronson Park," Washington said. "There will be many great activities.

"Two of the big attractions will be a college fair with more than 25 Michigan colleges and universities ready to talk to students and their families about future education choices and a business and skilled trades expo. Students and graduates will have the opportunity to engage with area employers from a wide variety of industries; manufacturing, finance, and retail."

"The idea is for our community to understand that there are many avenues to employment and success. Many of our employers are looking for skill trades people and they are willing to help with their education. I believe that this is one of the ways that the community can come together and help eliminate some of the hurdles to accessing The Promise."

Rain or shine, the celebration will also include free food, entertainment, higher education information tables, a children's fun zone, giveaways, and a stuff-the-bus school supply drive.

"Through the stuff-the-bus component, we're asking those who come to the park, if they are so inclined, to pack this bus with supplies for students to be successful," Washington said.

Funded into perpetuity by a group of anonymous donors, The Promise is here to stay. Washington said he has also taken root in Kalamazoo.

"I was born in Montana and lived in Germany and Colorado, and then Kalamazoo. My father was in the military and came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University," Washington said.

"I've had three stints in Kalamazoo and I believe the third time is the charm. Kalamazoo is where I started my own family and received my master's degree. There is just a gravitational pull to Kalamazoo. I'm staying this time."

For more information about The Kalamazoo Promise or the 10-Year Anniversary Community Celebration, visit kalamazoopronise.com.

The KzooConnect Team would like to thank Von Washington, Jr. and the entire Kalamazoo Promise organization for all of their efforts to connect Kalamazoo Public School graduates with education and opportunity.

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