From Magnetic Resonators To Ziploc Bags

The first one at the office on this crisp spring morning, Roskam leads his guests through a dimly lit maze of brown partitions, through cubby-hole offices where most of the day-to-day work is conducted by EAL staff. Roskam’s office is smallish, little different from the rest.

Muffled voices outside Roskam’s closed door indicate that office workers are gearing up for the day’s duties. Letters will be sent in an effort to gain increased college participation. Full-and part-time employees will pore over inventory and mailing lists, and vie for precious time on the office’s one computer. Workers will follow leads on needed merchandise. There could be a few successes: New schools may agree to participate, for example. And there may be some failures: A corporate contact or two will undoubtedly be too busy to consider making a donation. “If you want to go after something,” reflects Roskam, “you just keep plugging and you keep plugging and you keep plugging.”

To call Swede Roskam determined borders on understatement. His son, Peter, EAL’s executive director, says, “Dad will call my answering machine at three o’clock in the morning and leave a message. He’ll ask, ‘What do you think of this or that idea?’ ” This dogged persistence has led to some significant breakthroughs for Roskam and his staff: Time magazine has given them thousands of dollars’ worth of free advertising; Dow Chemical has recently covered the high cost of an EAL public-service television spot; and there are, of course, the countless donations of goods from major corporations, including something as sophisticated as a nuclear magnetic resonator to items as ordinary as Ziploc storage bags.

Reflecting On Success

When Swede Roskam discusses EAL, his words are intense, his language precise, his points occasionally punctuated with a slap on the desk. Roskam’s conversational style is that of the consummate businessman. Although “on loan” to EAL from Oil-Dri Corporation of America, Roskam still remains that company’s vice-president.

It was, in fact, his success in business that caused him to stop several years ago and do some serious reflecting. “I started thinking to myself,” relates Roskam, “ ‘Here I am working in the business world, and I have success bigger than anything I’d dreamed about.’ And I realized that the Lord was going to say to me, ‘Roskam, I gave you a great deal in life; what did you do with it?’ I’m not talking about working my way to heaven. I’m talking about reaching out to others with some of what has been given to me.”

Such conviction guided Roskam as he turned to building EAL He hired a Christian staff. He brought influential Christian leaders onto its board. He worked hard to involve Christian colleges. And this sense of mission has continued. Says Roskam: “We hope to expose those who receive scholarships to positive, evangelical Christianity. We want to show them that Jesus Christ is real.”

For Kids Without A Prayer

All this is not to say that EAL has not experienced a few rough spots along the way. In the spring of 1986, for example, EAL leaders began noticing the “attrition rate” of high-school graduates who were receiving scholarship help. “To be frank,” admits Roskam, “some we were helping simply couldn’t make it. They were flunking out of college.”

Roskam and his board began rethinking their approach. The outcome was EAL’s junior-high program.

With the help of church and community-service programs, and corporate funding, EAL now prepares scholarship recipients by selecting them while they are still in junior high. Under the care of adult “youth directors,” students receive constant and consistent academic, emotional, and spiritual guidance throughout junior high and high school. When they are graduated, EAL will provide the scholarship credit assistance for college. Programs already involve junior-high students in inner-city Chicago, a depressed area in rural Michigan, and an Appalachian community in Pennsylvania.

With this new program in place, Roskam believes that EAL is now on the right track. “We will still continue to help some needy high-school graduates,” Roskam adds. “But we would soon like to be putting 80 percent of our efforts into our junior-high effort.”

Roskam knows that not everyone can be helped. “We can’t save the world through EAL,” he admits. “But we are going to give many young people an opportunity. We are going to salvage the lives of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have had a prayer.”

They’re kids whose backgrounds are a lot like Swede Roskam’s.

By Chris Lutes, a senior editor of CAMPUS LIFE magazine.

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