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Promise Series: Insight into the Experience of the Gift

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The Kalamazoo Promise

When you're eighteen, it's hard for anyone to tell you what to do. After all you're an adult and you definitely think you've experienced it all. Leah Warwick a graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School was not much different in her thinking - wanting to chase her dreams and have a college life beyond the boundaries of Kalamazoo.

"As an 18 year old, I was ready to leave my hometown, I thought I had seen everything Kalamazoo had to offer, and I was ready for new beginnings."

Part of what made leaving easier for Warwick was the Kalamazoo Promise, the gift of a free college education for all Kalamazoo Public School graduates. But that gift of education didn't really sink in for Warwick until she was already gone.

Warwick shared that The Promise created a culture of education in Kalamazoo. "From the day a Kindergartener walks into the doors of a KPS school, they are told they're worth an education, one of the most essential things a person can have. KPS and the Kalamazoo Promise have put a sense of hope and worth into this community."

In 2005 when The Kalamazoo Promise was announced, Warwick was in 6th grade. "I knew it meant my brothers and I could go to college for free, but at that time I couldn't grasp the monetary significance of that."

College was something Warwick's parents had always spoken to the family about, but the impact was immeasurable on the entire family. It meant her family had more time to spend together instead of her parents taking on extra work to pay for the children's education. Warwick said, "Simply put The Kalamazoo Promise not only gave me and my family the gift of education, but the gift experience, the gift of time together and the biggest gift of all opportunity."

Attending Michigan State University Warwick began to realize the burden college expenses put on others. "That hit me my first month of freshman year at Michigan State, when a girl down the hall told me she had taken out $20,000 in loans for that school year. That was my first reality check as an adult, of how big of a gift I had actually received." She went on to share, "I didn't see how life changing it could be for a person to be able to come out of college with a degree, without crippling debt that I'd be paying off the rest of my life."

Leah Warwick

Warwick shared that after her four year experience, she was just as excited to comeback as she was to leave…funny how that works. "Kalamazoo has both the comfort and familiarity that is 'home' while still being a perfect place for a young person to start a career. The opportunities here are endless!"

And the opportunities just kept on coming for Warwick thanks to Bronson Healthcare Group where currently she is the Human Resources Marketing and Social Media Coordinator. Warwick started as an intern at Bronson, the day she was to graduate from high school. And one summer internship- turned into another where she grew to like the work Bronson did in the community.

"They not only believe in the city of Kalamazoo like I do, but they see the importance of a community based healthcare system, where everyone can receive exceptional medical care," Warwick said.

Warwick has come full circle deciding to make Kalamazoo her permanent home, and we asked her what the best thing about living in Kalamazoo is, and her answer was no surprise. "Hands down, the best thing about living in Kalamazoo is the people here."

Community is an important part of what Leah values in a place to call home, and Kalamazoo fits the bill. "I feel like a part of this community when I see people in Kalamazoo supporting the people around them. We've seen with our own eyes, the amount of generosity and support that lives in this city. From the donors of the Kalamazoo Promise, to every person who came together after two tragic events and the loss of eleven beautiful souls; the people here love and support one another. Knowing that my community comes together in both the good and the bad, is what makes me feel like I'm a part of something bigger."

Where will the future take Warwick? It sounds like her plans are to follow her heart and passion. "While there is a lot of unknown, one thing I do know is that I will always try to invest in this city and keep alive what the promise donors started!"

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