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President Obama donates to ALEF


Foundation gets money from Obama's Nobel Prize

By Sara Busse
April 13, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong continues to fight long after retiring as a four-star Air Force general. The Mingo County resident says it's a campaign, not just a battle, to teach West Virginia students to be leaders.

Foglesong got a boost from the leader of the United States recently that will add ammunition to his effort -- the money came via President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize.

The retired general's current mission is president of the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports and enables students from Appalachia with academic and leadership abilities to pursue higher education.

There are three qualifications to be part of the program, Foglesong said.

Foglesong"We want academic agility -- we want them to be smart," he said. "Then we look at what they have done in leadership roles in their community or in school. Finally, we look at the financial need. We try to balance those, and there's no shortage of applicants who meet all three criteria."

Funding comes from various corporations and grants, but as for many other nonprofit organizations, last year wasn't a good one financially.

"Because of that, we were looking to reduce our footprint," Foglesong said.

Then he got the phone call.

"I got a call saying they were from the White House, and I thought it was [someone playing] a joke," Foglesong said. "Then I thought it might be someone wanting information on a MIA/POW commission I work on. She said she was on the committee to announce the award winners for the Nobel Prize money, that there would be 10 increments given out, and they would announce it that afternoon.

"She explained the rules of engagement -- I couldn't say anything about it until the president announced it. I still wasn't sure, and then I asked her what her phone number was, and she gave it to me and I recognized it as an exchange from the Old Executive [Office] Building, and I knew it was for real."

The awards were made because of a promise made by Obama when he won the Nobel Peace Prize to give away the $1.4 million to groups involving veterans and education. Groups didn't apply for the money; they were chosen to receive it.

Organizations receiving money were all national entities, such as the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, the United Negro College Fund and the American Indian College Fund -- and Foglesong's foundation. The Appalachian Leadership Education Foundation received $125,000.

"I sent the woman who called an e-mail and asked, 'Why don't you call me every Wednesday?'" Foglesong said.

The money will allow the foundation to award scholarships to more students this year than originally planned. The average number each year has been 15, and Foglesong takes a hands-on approach to the selection process.

"We normally get a large number of applications. I spread those applications out on the floor of my little house in Chatteroy Hollow in Mingo County and narrow it down to about 25 or 30," he said.

A selection committee of business executives, school counselors and others receive those applications, and scores them to narrow the number. Foglesong travels around the state to interview each applicant and their parents, a process that takes about a month. The committee convenes and looks at all of the information.

"We want to be sure we invest wisely, we want no false starts," Foglesong said. "We want the next great generation of leaders in West Virginia."

Sometime in June, winners are announced. Recipients sign a contract to guarantee their involvement in all aspects of the program, beyond just going to school on the organization's nickel.

"They agree to keep good grades, they agree to do 20 hours of community service each semester," Foglesong said. "And they have to attend our meetings."

Those meetings are key to keeping the students on the right track. As the self-proclaimed "grandfather" to the students, Foglesong stresses character and hard work in each encounter.

"And accountability," he said. "They have to be accountable to themselves first and then to us."

Students already in the organization act as mentors to the new scholarship winners, but Foglesong is the chief mentor in leadership skills.

The decorated veteran, born and raised in Williamson, was the second-highest ranking officer in the Air Force, led the Air Force in Europe, was the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as president of Mississippi State University.

His latest job leading West Virginia's youth got a bit easier thanks to the Nobel Prize money.

"Many of our kids are from single parents. All have been through things that would have stopped another, less strong kid from success," Foglesong said. "I just try to keep them on track. I want to help them to become leaders for tomorrow."

Reach Sara Busse at or 304-348-1249.


Obama Donates $125,000 to College Students in Appalachia

By Danny Martinez
Published: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In a story that merely appeared as a line on CNN's Political Ticker, President Obama donated his Nobel Peace Prize money of 10 million Norweigan kronor ($1.5 million) to various charities. One that caught my eye was the $125,000 Obama donated to the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation (ALEF).

Based in West Virginia, in the heart of the Appalachia mountain range, the foundation "enables young men and women from Appalachia to pursue higher education though scholarship and leadership curriculum." They have a group of 30 fellows who are given scholarships to attend one of four universities in the state, given an opportunity that unfortunately, few students in that region of West Virginia experience.

Robert "Doc" Foglesong, a retired four-star general in the Air Force and former president of Mississippi State University, founded the center after seeing the need for leadership in Appalachia. Himself, born in West Virginia, he received three separate degrees from the state. Recognizing that the hope was high but resources scarce, he created the ALEF to provide students an opportunity to go to college.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics speak volumes of the sorry state of education in West Virginia, the only state fully in Appalachia. Although the state is only slightly below the average percent of high school graduates, it ranks dead last in citizens with at least a bachelor's degree, at only 17.3 percent. Of the 11 states in the Appalachia region, only three have college graduation rates above 30 percent - Virginia, Maryland, and New York - and that is entirely because of their large urban centers on the coast.?
After taking an informal survey of the online news sources, I think it is a shame that this was not given more coverage. Obama gave a nod to Haiti, donated to the Bush-Clinton fund, education in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the ALEF.

Which of these does not belong?

Public education in the United States is only free through high school. Thirteen years of education is given to each citizen to prepare each of them to join the workforce. Then, students and their parents are expected to pull their weight through college. The over 60 percent drop between the two milestones is indicative of the fact that college remains a financial stretch for far too many.

I went on an Appalachia service trip during spring break, and the situation I saw was a testament to these statistics. I traveled to Portsmouth, Ohio, affectionately known as "Appalachian Ohio," as it was on the outskirts of the mountainous region but still greatly affected by its geography. Portsmouth is also part of the "Rust Belt," a part of the upper Midwest to Northeast, where manufacturing plays a huge role in the economy. Steel and coal towns dominated the landscape and economies of local areas for much of the state's history, but they have been declining for many years. In Portsmouth, the facilities of the old plant stretched for miles until it was closed down and most of it destroyed, except for one huge warehouse, which has fittingly become the local Wal-Mart. ?Many members of the Portsmouth community said that, because there is little opportunity for employment with the possibility of advancement, many of the young people move from small towns in Appalachia to large cities. As a result, cities like Portsmouth and countless others in West Virginia and other Appalachian states struggle to scrape by with barebones economies, with town centers riddled with fast-food chains.    

One source of hope was one family in the community who we met. Four generations had grown up in Portsmouth and provided a good living for themselves. Yet, this is not the case for the vast majority of people who live in Appalachia. Should the federal government play a larger role in developing jobs in this region, or is it just natural that their economies dry up once the resources do? ?One of the reasons why I like the ALEF is because it focuses on the community of West Virginia, harnessing local talent that will hopefully tackle the local issues. By allowing the students to go to four universities in West Virginia, they will undoubtedly learn to have a critical eye about their surroundings and think of ways to change it.

My experience of living in Boston, and moreover as a PULSE student volunteering in South Boston, has given me ideas and thoughts about the community we live in and how it can be improved. ?I commend President Obama for giving this donation to a worthy cause. I would like to think that the message that the money sent is just as important as the cold, hard cash: Education is the first step to tackling a problem, because whatever has been done in the first place, sure hasn't been working.
Furthermore, the Appalachia region is often an overlooked place of poverty. I may have been living in la-la-land in California, my only exposure to the issue of poverty in the region was from watching October Sky. Hopefully, the president's donation will be the first step towards awareness of this important issue to all, challenging us to not look across the border or across the globe for economic injustice when it can easily be found a bus ride away in one of our own  50 states.

The Heights is the independent student newspaper at Boston College.