|“The same reasons you love it are some of the challenges,” Yeschke says, “The remoteness.”
Dana Williams agrees. “The thing people love about camp is the thing that makes it challenging to provide them with camp.”
While the community and the H. E. Butt Foundation both benefit from access to HCTC broadband, most residents are concerned about more immediate issues. One of the main barriers for some prospective employees of Leakey ISD? The nearest large grocery store is 40 minutes away.
Yeschke prefers local anyway. “We’re blessed to have the mercantile. You go in there and it’s just that mom and pop feel.”
The government defines Leakey as a frontier because residents don’t have the same access to grocery stores or hospitals—and the county is officially labeled as an “economically distressed community” because it has had a net loss of prime work-age population in the last ten years.
LABELS DON’T TELL THE FULL STORY THOUGH, YESCHKE POINTS OUT.
The Ford Foundation agrees. Most rural communities, they reported recently, have “levels of volunteerism, civic engagement, and social capital [that] would impress any urban visitor.” In recent years, non-resident landowners in Real County—folk who have ranches in the county but live elsewhere—have been investing more and more time locally, joining committees and setting up scholarship funds. The H. E. Butt Foundation has helped convene various groups who are interested in seeing Real County thrive.
Of course, the county does great work on its own too. This spring, 31 students graduated from Leakey, and 19 of them—61%—received scholarships from local money.
“We do not participate in coordinating that at all,” Williams told me later. She is clearly proud of the generosity residents show to each other.
“There’s a $162,000 worth of local money that came to the class” of 2022, Yeschke said. “As far as getting new teachers here, we advertise that.” The community may be labeled “economically distressed,” but they know how to git ‘er done.
While we talk, two recent Leakey graduates walk in with Mrs. Yeschke. The superintendent says hi to his wife and tells me those are his kids. “Not my actual kids, my students.” The two students are already giving back, teaching robotics and programming to younger students at STEM camp. One of them received a local scholarship to Texas A&M. She’s going this fall to study education.
For most rural students, going to college is not a simple decision because they know they may not be able to come back to their community. Remote locations can mean fewer small businesses and fewer job opportunities.
“But they want to be teachers,” Yeschke says of the two students. Since every community needs good teachers, they’ll have an opportunity to return.
Maybe their first interview will be right here overlooking the Texas Hill Country from a table at the Bent Rim Grill.