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Faith in our future

Faith in the Future has offered some very interesting presentations during the past 15 years.

The foundation for the annual prayer breakfast, which has traditionally been held the Friday before Thanksgiving, remains the same as it was when the idea was first proposed by R. Daniel Conlon, who at the time was the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville. It seeks to build a climate of economic development through prayer, leadership, encouragement and teamwork.

This year’s event, held Nov. 22 at Froehlich’s Classic Corner in downtown Steubenville, built on that base, as Jimmie Bruce, president of Eastern Gateway Community College, delivered a positive message, one that offered a look at the area’s future.

“Eastern Gateway is a beacon of hope,” Bruce explained. “It is touching people right here in Steubenville and in Jefferson County, and in Mahoning County and Youngstown, people across the state and across the country. I’m honored and privileged to be the president of such an institution that has served so many for so many years and has a rich history of being a part of the hope that this community needs.”

There’s been a lot of change in what residents of our region know as community colleges. No matter what name they have been known by, the schools fill an important need, especially in places like our Tri-State Area.

“We were just talking about the stigma junior colleges have had over the years,” Bruce said.

“You don’t hear too many institutions refer to themselves as junior colleges anymore. Most of them have gotten away from that title and are now just community colleges or two-year colleges.

“Regardless of what they are called, community colleges have been, and always will be, a center of opportunity for people. I like to think of them as places that provide hope for individuals.”

All are welcome, Bruce said, adding there’s just one, very simple, criteria.

“The mission of a community college is to provide post-secondary education to students who have a desire to learn — period,” Bruce said. “There are no age requirements, no wealth requirements, no heritage requirements and no academic education requirements. If you want to learn, community colleges are open doors, they are open access, and anyone can come in.”

Like just about everything in our area, the school has seen many changes during its 51-year history, maybe the most visible being its name — we’ve known it as Jefferson County Technical Institute, Jefferson Technical College, Jefferson Community College and Eastern Gateway Community College, and it has grown from a single campus along Sunset Boulevard in Steubenville to a multi-campus institution, with learning centers in Youngstown and Mahoning County.

What hasn’t changed is what the school means to the region.

“We feel that Eastern Gateway provides a path to a better life for students. In fact, our vision is creating opportunities and changing lives,” Bruce added.

“This often comes in the form of a first-start for many students. They start at Eastern Gateway and then they transfer to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio State, Ohio University — I can’t name all of the places.

“Sometimes, it is a last chance,” he added. “There are a lot of students who tried to go to school and have failed out, or have never been able to go to school because of job or family requirements, so, for them, it’s their last chance.”

And that, Bruce explained, can help reinforce the importance of the school.

“For certain community colleges, and I believe this about EGCC, they exist to remove the financial, socioeconomic and psychological barriers that individuals have about going to college,” he said. “That’s an ongoing job, and a task we embrace. We try to provide a depth of services that allow students to complete their education and allow them to work through the many issues they have along the way.”

One of the reasons Bruce decided to come to Steubenville in 2015, he explained, was that the community reminded him of where he grew up, a small town in Muhlenberg County, Ky.

“Muhlenberg County at one time annually produced more coal than any place in the world,” he said. “I remember when I was a young person that people had license plates that said ‘Muhlenberg County: The coal capital of the world,’ and it literally was in the 1970s and the early 1980s. When I graduated from high school in 1982, I was only one of two men in class who went to college. Everyone else went and got a job in the coal mines, because it was good pay and dependable work.

“But, guess what happened — like the mills here, the coal industry declined, and the community was left to redefine itself.”

Sometimes, Bruce said, it’s tough to remember that what anyone does truly can play a big role in the lives of others. When that happens, all it takes is just listening to someone else.

“I was speaking at a convention in Cincinnati,” Bruce said.

“Afterward, a woman came up to me and introduced herself and told me she was from Wintersville. She said she just wanted to tell me how much Eastern Gateway means to Wintersville and Steubenville. ‘I put my three kids through college. I would never have been able to do that had it not been for the Horizon Grant,'” he remembered her as saying.

That grant provides free tuition for Jefferson County residents who graduate from high school with a grade-point average of 2.5 or better.

“When you hear those things, you just say ‘wow.’ You just don’t realize how much that really means to somebody until you start talking to people,” Bruce said.

Having a positive impact on the lives of others, providing hope, offering the potential of a brighter future. Those are important to people like Bruce, and are important reminders of the work being done by organizations like Faith in the Future.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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