I’m on a mission. I want to change the way young people view opportunity. Many years ago, I worked as a publisher and consultant in Washington but lived in Hurricane, West Virginia. As the editor of a small defense journal I was afforded the opportunity to interview service secretaries, members of the joint chiefs of staff, congressmen, senators, governors, defense industry executives, and hundreds of soldiers, marines, and airmen in the field. It was an interesting life. On some days, I’d be doing a one-on-one interview with the likes of John McCain on Capitol Hill, and seven hours later I was scooping the cat pan and taking out the trash at my home in the heart of Appalachia. I operated in both worlds, and this inspired me to try new things that weren’t typical in the area that I chose to call home. Commentators on cable news call this are Middle America.
“The diversity of having a broad-based American experience produces innovation and tough entrepreneurs.”
Despite what’s said on Sunday morning talk shows, Middle Americans aren’t that hard to figure out. We don’t share the same values as hipsters in New York, Wall Street bankers, career politicians, or the lobbyists on K-Street in Washington. That doesn’t make us backwards or somehow shut-off from the rest of the world. Personally, I have travelled to forty-three of the fifty states. I have witnessed the poverty of Central America, and the depravity of man in Bosnia. I have dined at some of the finest restaurants in Washington, and met with business associates in almost every major metropolitan area in the country. I have also baled hay. I have camped in remote wilderness. I am a veteran. I mow my own grass, fix my own cars, and clean my own house. I have mended barbed wire fences, worked manual labor, and slept in every imaginable environment including snowy mountaintops to bug infested swamps. I’ve hung out with bikers, farmers, construction workers, lawyers, soldiers, entrepreneurs, coal miners, and doctors, and call many of them my friends. I know how to shoot a firearm very accurately, and there have been times in my life when I had to seriously contemplate who or what I was willing to die for. I’m not alone in my experiences, and millions of people like me have lived life on both sides of the economic and cultural chasm that is modern America. There is a sense here, however, that many of the people who cast aspersions on Middle Americans have never experienced the things we have. In my mind, Middle Americans who have lived in both worlds are more well rounded than any of the people who talk down to us in the media. We’ve seen both worlds and have chosen to live where things make the most sense. So what does this have to do with entrepreneurship and our mission at StandWatch Academy?
Often times, for a variety of reasons, young people here feel trapped, and seek nothing more to leave home and never come back. By diversifying their experiences, our Academy intends to help them understand that they can see the same two worlds that I saw when I was younger. It is this diversity, the diversity of having a broad-based American experience that produces innovation and tough entrepreneurs. StandWatch Academy’s mission; “To teach through experience those who strive to make their communities better”, is formed from that premise.
It’s really quite simple; the best way to build a hopeful future for young people who live in areas where new opportunities are lacking is to expose them to new things and give them the basic skills they need to enact change in their communities back home. In the process, it’s possible that economies can be transformed, and lives improved. That’s StandWatch Academy in a nutshell.