The school year is underway here in Boston, thousands of students have arrived, swelling city sidewalks, shops, parks and restaurants with their excitement, energy and optimism. Their presence is affirming and inspiring, reminding me of the perfect environment that is created when learning and camaraderie occur together — the same environment created on every Road Scholar experience. And that powerful combination is a force for good in every city and community when people come together to learn, understand and share their thinking.
Of course, there is no actual beginning or end of the Road Scholar academic calendar, because our learning adventures are underway every day of the year across the world. In many ways, the impact more than 100,000 Road Scholar participants have on local communities can be felt as far away as a schoolhouse in Africa or as close as a farm in Missouri.
I saw this impact myself while on a Road Scholar learning adventure in Zimbabwe last May. In the rural village of Ntabayengwe, Road Scholars visit the Lesedi School, founded by our instructor Benson Siyawareva in 2013. A portion of the tuition of our participants who visit the school is given as a contribution, and participants also make gifts of notebooks, pencils and other supplies. Our presence is making a real difference for these children.
Cuba is another place where Road Scholars are improving the lives of community members. Because of the U.S. embargo, having cash in Cuba doesn’t mean you’re able to buy the necessities of life, as ordinary things like batteries and bandages are often impossible to come by, not to mention things like, yarn, needles and thread, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and much more. But the generosity of Road Scholar participants has improved conditions for countless Cuban people, community projects, educational programs and private enterprises, as all have directly benefited from gifts Road Scholars bring and the support Road Scholar provides.
Road Scholar’s impact can be felt even closer to home, such as along Missouri’s Katy Trail — America’s longest rail trail and one of its oldest. This 238-mile trail carries hikers and cyclists through small communities along the northern banks of the Missouri River. More than 1,200 Road Scholar participants have experienced the Katy Trail since 2010. Road Scholars have not only forged friendships with members of the local community, they have contributed significantly to the local economy just by being there. The vast majority of Road Scholar tuition for bicycling programs on the Katy Trail goes to the local museums, farms, restaurants, vineyards, hotels and experts that make this program come alive. All told, Road Scholars have contributed nearly $600,000 to the communities along the Katy Trail over the years.
And it’s not just the direct economic benefit to these communities Road Scholars bring, it’s the exchange of ideas and sharing of enthusiasm and goodwill that perhaps makes the greatest difference of all.
In the comments section below, I’d love to hear from you how your Road Scholar experience made a difference to a local community member or organization.
James Moses is the President and CEO of Road Scholar. He started with Road Scholar in 1979 as the organization’s very first registrar.