Author Sarah Smarsh to headline PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference

Author and journalist Sarah Smarsh came from generations of impoverished Kansas wheat farmers: hardworking, no-nonsense folks who worked themselves to the bone, yet struggled to pay the bills, could not afford healthcare, and often were forced to move their children from school to school. She became the first in her family to go to college, and today is an outspoken, respected voice for rural families and their children, as well as a frequent media commentator on class, politics and rural issues.

She chronicles her experiences and explores the socioeconomic forces behind her upbringing in her New York Times bestselling book “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.”

Smarsh will also serve as keynote speaker at the upcoming PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference to be held in November in Beaver Creek, Colorado, hosted by the Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 education non-profit. It will be her first time at a speaking engagement in Colorado.

“When I was a child in rural Kansas during the 1980s and ’90s, my working-poor family didn’t have the time, money or information required to offer me the opportunities I craved,” Smarsh said. “Millions of children are similarly isolated by geography and class, and the care they receive often depends on the community that surrounds them. I addressed Heartland to those children. I’m excited to join a gathering of professionals dedicated to reaching them with after-school programs.”

Organizers say they are thrilled to have Smarsh contributing to the conversation at the PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference, which they bill as a unique opportunity for educators, organizations, and thought leaders to connect, collaborate, and create a roadmap for future success on rural afterschool issues. The Conference roadmap will be built by all attendees with a goal to support the quality and sustainability of afterschool programming in our rural communities.

Smarsh will share her insights alongside other experts in the field and rural, and mountain-resort educators and advocates at the PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference Nov. 13-15. Conference attendees can attend her keynote, and individual tickets will also be available to the general public.

Building a roadmap

The PwrHrs Rural Afterschool Conference is the first three-day meeting of its kind hosted by the Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 in collaboration with the Afterschool Alliance, Colorado Afterschool Partnership, and the National Afterschool Association.

Smarsh will present along with keynote speakers Matthew Emerzian of Every Monday Matters, Nicole Bosworth of InClassToday, Carrie Morgridge of the Morgridge Family Foundation, Carrie Hauser of Colorado Mountain College, Alexis Steines of Afterschool Alliance, and Malgosia Kostecka of The Grove Consultants International.

While rural communities are diverse, they face common problems when it comes to educating the youngest members of their communities — limited funds, scarce resources, a struggle to retain staff, and large geographical distances that students and parents often travel, said Sara Amberg, YouthPower365’s director of sustainability, capacity and grants.

“This conference is about bringing together the supporters of rural afterschool — teachers, advocates, fundraisers — and sharing expertise, knowledge and information,” Amberg said. “There’s not a lot of research out there about rural afterschool programs. Most of the information is from cities, so we hope to fill some of that gap. This is about creating a larger support system for other communities like us.”

Prices for the 2019 Conference will increase on September 15. Scholarships, discounts and group rates are available. Learn more at


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