COW Program Transforms Youths at VMI
LEXINGTON, Va., July 24, 2023—The College Orientation Workshop, Inc. (COW) program returned to Virginia Military Institute this summer, marking its 37th year of transforming the lives of promising, male, minority high school students.
COW is a four-week program that offers education, leadership and character building, and physical training at no cost to the students. This year, the 31 participants came from 10 states, and the District of Columbia.
COW is the dream child of Eugene Williams ’74, who is the founder and executive director. Williams was in the third class of Black cadets at VMI. Early in his VMI experience, he realized that many high school aged males could benefit from the VMI style of training, even if they could not meet the requirements to become VMI cadets.
Williams stressed that COW is not a summer camp, but a transformational experience. “We take these kids who have promise and potential, but have failed to achieve their potential, and push them out of their comfort zone,” explained Williams.
The COW program includes intense physical training as well as classes in mathematics and English. They also learned CPR, public speaking, financial literacy, career exploration, and learning skills. The students engaged in choral music, improved their swimming skills at the Aquatic Center, faced their fears crossing the high ropes course in the Corps Physical Training Facility, performed team-building exercises, and learned firefighting skills with the city of Lexington Fire and Rescue Team. They also enjoyed fun activities such as kayaking down the Maury River, canoeing on the James River, camping, going on field trips to farms and museums, picnicking, and going to movies and restaurants.
The students heard many motivational guest speakers including Angela Greene, Lexington Police chief; Steve Funkhouser, Rockbridge County sheriff; Gen. J.R. Gorham, the first black brigadier general of the North Carolina National Guard; Vice Adm. Kevin Scott, a Naval aviator; Blake D. Morant, legal educator and former dean of George Washington University Law School; and former NFL linebacker, Ken Harvey, who played for the Arizona Cardinals and the Washington Redskins.
Left to Right: A Lexington firefighter trains the COW program students in correct firefighting skills. —Photo courtesy of Eugene Williams ’74, former NFL linebacker, Ken Harvey bonds with some of the COW program students following his motivational talk, and students in the COW program face their fears traversing the high ropes course in the Corps Physical Training Facility. -VMI Photos by Marianne Hause.
Over the life of the program, approximately 75% of participants go on to attend college. The other 25% have attended trade schools, entered the military, or worked in other civilian pursuits.
Interested students submit an application for the program that includes an essay, and an agreement to “pay it forward,” meaning they will do acts of service in the future to repay the generosity shown to them through the program. There is no charge to the students selected to the program, since in most cases, neither the participant nor his family have the resources to cover the costs. It is a fundamental tenet of the COW program, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, that lack of economic resources should not prevent a deserving student from participating. All funds to cover the costs of the program are raised by private donations or through the annual signature fundraising event, the COW Golf Classic, at the Country Club of Virginia in Richmond. For more information, or to donate, visit the website.
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