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Companies Invest In Region’s Future

Mon., July 22, 1996, midnight

When a problem seems insurmountable - too huge for the mind to comprehend - the tendency is to look for big solutions.

Historically, that’s meant big government. Sizable programs, monolithic departments, unwieldy bureaucracy. And still the problems get bigger.

Two recent Spokane efforts to combat society’s ills are proof that the best way to solve a problem is to think small. Think local.

On the same day last week, the newspaper focused on two business-driven endeavors to fight poverty, unemployment, welfare and lost potential.

These efforts are a model for all.

Kaiser Aluminum Corp. donated $50,000 to the Community Colleges of Spokane for scholarships to students in technical fields. Kaiser officials have noticed a shortage of qualified applicants for the aluminum plant. Rather than pick up shop and move, they’re doing something about it.

Seafirst Bank has dedicated $1 million a year to its Youth Jobs program - an innovation that helps poor youth onto a college track with job training, mentoring and tutoring.

If the students stick to their commitment of good grades and job training, they’re rewarded with a $10,000 scholarship.

It has meant a new way of life for dozens of youngsters in the fledgling program and others like it sprouting up around the state.

Instead of welfare and dependence, these would-be drop-outs are finding self-worth and ambition.

They’re contributing to society rather than drawing from it.

These are exactly the kinds of undertakings that will make a difference for our future.

Battles over welfare limits and calls for lower taxes are meaningless if corporate America doesn’t step up to take the initiative.

Seafirst and Kaiser have done just that.

But it’s also important to note that you don’t have to be a multi-million-dollar operation to make a difference. In Tillamook County, Ore., the entire community took ownership of a teen pregnancy rate that was second-highest only to Portland.

Several entities tackled the problem in their own way - the health department gave out free condoms and made sure any teen who asked for an appointment got one within two days, churches taught the value of abstinence, the YMCA set up more sports and confidence-building programs for girls - and the cumulative result was a drop to the lowest rate in the state after only four years.

Now those are results, and they were arrived at through a grassroots effort devoid of federal oversight.

In Spokane, Seafirst and Kaiser are showing the way for other businesses, organizations and volunteer groups to real and effective solutions. The rest should pay attention, and pitch in.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Anne Windishar/For the editorial board

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