By BEN R. WILLIAMS
On Sept. 30, The Harvest Foundation announced it will be offering a $10.3 million grant to extend the SEED Fund, which allows students in Martinsville and Henry County — public, private, and homeschooled alike — to attend Patrick and Henry Community College free of charge.
The cost of tuition is covered. The cost of textbooks is covered. And this expansion will provide for students that are currently in kindergarten all the way up to high school seniors.
I have long maintained that the SEED Fund, which was first introduced in 2017 as a trial program, is one of our community’s most remarkable achievements. It allows students to attend our local community college regardless of their financial status. It advertises us to the rest of the state as a community that cares about education. It is surely a wonderful tool for the folks at the Economic Development Corporation when they’re trying to convince businesses to locate to Martinsville and Henry County.
Yes, the Harvest Foundation deserves all the credit in the world for the SEED Fund. It’s a wonderful, forward-thinking program that should be celebrated across the board.
Or so you would think.
When I saw the news articles about the SEED Fund hit social media, I made the mistake of reading the comments. And oh, my friends, what comments they were.
My favorite comment was an older individual suggesting that Harvest’s money would be better spent by giving a lump sum to every senior in town instead of investing in the youth. It’s hard to take that kind of comment seriously, of course, and in any case, I have a feeling that if you were to give an individual like that a solid gold ingot, they would probably complain that it’s too heavy.
But most of the critical comments — and there were a depressing number of them — focused on the idea that “nothing is free.”
These folks posited that no one gives you a bunch of money for college without a sinister ulterior motive, and that the money was surely coming straight from the pockets of taxpayers, and also something something Dumbocrats something.
I assume these folks have never heard of “scholarships” before, just as I also assume they have never received any. I realize that joke may seem mean-spirited, but that’s because it is and I don’t care.
The money for the SEED Fund does not come from taxpayer wallets. The Harvest Foundation was established when the Memorial Hospital was sold in 2002 and all of Harvest’s programs are funded through the interest generated by that nest egg. This is literally as close to free money as you can get, and it’s going to a profoundly worthy cause.
Over the years, I’ve largely become inured to hateful, ignorant comments on Facebook. The negative comments about the SEED Fund, however, really stuck in my craw.
There is a sentiment that I have heard in Martinsville and Henry County again and again over the years, a feeling that we don’t deserve to have nice things. To many, every piece of generosity comes with strings attached, and every altruistic act has a sinister ulterior motive.
When you consider the economic devastation that Henry County faced a couple of decades ago, I can see how many people may have adopted a hard, cynical worldview to shield themselves from disappointment. I can understand it.
But man, I’m tired of it.
We’re allowed to have nice things in Henry County and Martinsville. It’s possible for a charitable organization to do something kind with no expectation of a return. Not everything is funded by taxpayer dollars. And most importantly, in the name of all things holy, not everything is about team politics.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s plenty to be cynical about in modern society. But walking through life viewing everything through a lens of cynicism is lazy and reductive.
But you know what isn’t lazy and reductive? Figuring out a way to offer college scholarships to a generation of young people in Martinsville and Henry County.
I offer my sincere thanks and appreciation to the folks at the Harvest Foundation for doing something beautiful for our community.