When the Freshwater Coast Community Foundation (FCCF) launched its capital campaign for The Abbeville Promise last spring, the organization already had raised 59 percent of its $1.2 million goal. An impressive start, to be sure. But everyone knows that a healthy lead during the first half should not breed complacency in the final quarter.
With 59 percent and goal to go, former NFL safety for the Washington Redskins Leomont Evans was the perfect person to provide perspective. As the keynote speaker at the April 19 kickoff event, Evans recalled his academic struggles in high school and a failure to fully appreciate his scholarship at Clemson University, which led to his successful career in the NFL.
“When I was an Abbeville High School freshman, I was playing JV football. Then I was moved to varsity. I got to play a lot, but I lost focus on my school work,” Evans told the crowd. “Everyone told me how good I was, but no one told me what I needed to do. I failed ninth grade. Failed!”
He quickly learned that, if he wanted to be accepted to a Division One college, he had better straighten up and catch up. So he upped his game over the next three years and got accepted at Clemson. By the age of 21, he was drafted into the Washington Redskins. After a serious neck injury, Evans retired from the NFL in 2002.
“One thing about the community of Abbeville is that we always have support,” Evans said. “This community still supports me. The Abbeville Promise is a big thing for this community. … It gives them a jump start, gives them a future. My education here still carries me today.”
Stephen Taylor, economic development director for Abbeville County, said that The Abbeville Promise is not only the right thing to do but also part of a strategic plan for the community. “We are creating a ready workforce,” he said. “I am proud to serve a community that seeks to make itself better.”
Piedmont Technical College President Dr. Ray Brooks noted that promises are not made to people with whom we don’t have a relationship. Relationships nurture trust and good will. They engender caring. And the Abbeville community truly cares about its young people. “You are making a promise that there will be no barriers to higher education,” he said.
Jeff Wilson, CEO of West Carolina Telephone Cooperative, and Andy Timmerman, CEO of Abbeville First Bank, are co-chairs for The Abbeville Promise. Both explained why they chose to support its mission.
“The Abbeville Promise provides a pathway to a happier and more productive life for our children,” Wilson told those in attendance at the kickoff event. “The Abbeville Promise will help make our community ascend.”
“The decision to support The Abbeville Promise was not a difficult decision to make,” said Timmerman. “We, like you, are stakeholders in our community. We want a bright and prosperous future for ourselves and our children. By increasing opportunity in post-secondary education, we can raise up the next generation of productive citizens and community leaders. … We encourage other businesses to join us” in supporting The Abbeville Promise.
As of September, The Abbeville Promise had received more than $996,000 in pledges, about 83 percent of its goal.
“A statement of declaration is only that ― a statement,” FCCF Chairman Brad Evans said. It’s imperative that it become a promise kept. “There is much more to do,” he said. “Now is the time to make a promise to our children and to keep it.”
“We all want our kids to do better than us. An education is invaluable; you can’t put a dollar amount on it,” said Leomont Evans. “You’ve got some good people behind these kids. One day they will get up here, like me, and say thank you.”