By JESSE BURKHARDT
There is learning from books, and then there is learning through life experience -- and travel offers one of the best opportunities to learn about the world.
That's the motivation behind a rare opportunity being offered by Underwood resident and Lions International member Cam Thomas: He is providing a $1,000 grant and a round-trip airline ticket to allow one local (and lucky) young person to travel to a distant land.
Thomas said he came up with the idea because he realizes how much a person can learn through traveling, and he decided to extend that gift of knowledge to a young person in the community.
"My wife Barbara and I have done a lot of traveling. We know it's a rewarding educational experience," Thomas said.
Thomas is offering the generous and intriguing gift to one deserving individual, who must fit the following basic stipulations: Applicants must be between 18 and 25; must have graduated from Trout Lake, Glenwood, or Columbia High School; and must have held a high school grade point average of no less than 2.80.
Thomas pointed out that he specifically wanted to avoid making only the top high school scholars eligible for the travel award.
"I want to encourage people who had a little more modest GPA to apply," Thomas explained. "I'm hoping this can be a positive, life-enriching experience for the recipient."
The deadline to apply for the travel award is Sept. 10, and the winner will be announced about 30 days later.
According to Thomas, the process will work as follows: Applicants fitting the criteria will respond to a questionnaire with 18 questions such as: "How would you initiate contact and interact with local citizens?" and "How do your parents/guardians feel about you applying for this experience?"
The applications will be reviewed by a five-member committee to get to a handful of finalists. The finalists will then be interviewed in a format yet to be determined.
"Say we get 20 applicants. We'll figure out the ones who are qualified and eligible, and we'll boil it down to four or five really good candidates," Thomas explained. "Then it would be good to meet those people and interview them; find out how they react. In effect, they are representatives of not only the United States but also of Lions Club International in a foreign country. We want someone who knows how to talk to people. And we want to see a sense of community service. That will weigh in our decision."
Thomas has put very few restrictions on how the winner can use the travel award. The person selected for the grant will be free to go anywhere on the planet, with only two minor stipulations: The nation chosen must be approved by the U.S. State Department (i.e., don't put North Korea on your list of possibilities); and the travel must be outside the North American continent (so Canada and Mexico are out, too).
"I want them to have the freedom to choose where to travel. There is no reason he or she can't go with a friend, and there is no timeline to return," Thomas explained. "There is no minimum time frame either, but we're hoping and expecting that the person who wins the award will have figured out how to stay for a while. I'm thinking a minimum of six weeks, but if they can stretch it to two or three months, that's fine. They can stretch this out by staying in youth hostels and the like."
The recipient will have to travel within nine months of receiving the award.
"They can't bank it for the future," Thomas said. "The reason to allow a nine-month window is to give them a chance to travel in a season appropriate for where they want to go."
One other interesting stipulation: Upon returning from the overseas adventure, the traveler will be asked to make a presentation about the trip in a public forum. Thomas suggested that the White Salmon Community Library might be an ideal place for the presentation.
The bottom line is, Thomas wants to encourage people to see more of the world.
"The number of Americans who have a passport is appallingly low when compared to Australia, New Zealand, Europe, or Canada," he said. "People need to get out and see the world to appreciate home."
The percentage of Americans who have a passport varies depending on the source, but the consensus is that it is somewhere around 25 percent.
For now, Thomas said he is willing to fund one person for an overseas trip, but that could be expanded depending on how the program goes. If the community and general public get behind this concept and make additional contributions, the Lions may fund a second award.
"There's no reason we couldn't send two," he said.
In the future, if there is support from the general public, the eligibility may be opened to all of Klickitat County, Thomas said. But for this initial campaign, the award is open only to graduates of the high schools in White Salmon, Glenwood, and Trout Lake.
"That's the school system I went to," he explained.
After he came up with his proposal, Thomas got to thinking about his own globetrotting over the years.
"I made a list of the places I've been -- 17 different countries," he said. "And I appreciate the perspective and people I've come to know through traveling outside my comfort zone."
Thomas added that he is looking forward to the process.
"Everybody I've talked to says we're going to get a lot of applications for this," he said.
Those interested in applying for the grant or making a contribution to a second "Overseas Experience" can contact the Lions Club at P.O. Box 1999, White Salmon, Wash., 98672; on-line at the Klickitat County Young Leaders Association Web site: http://www.kcyla.com/Overseas_Experience.html; or at either the White Salmon Community Library or The Enterprise office, where application forms will be available.