Zak and Leah Ringelstein grew up in small lake towns a mountain range away from each other -- Leah in Rangeley and Zak in Moultonborough. They met while teaching public school across the country and recognized something in each other: community values and pine tree authenticity. Their first child, Zion, is almost 2 years old, and another is on the way.
Leah and I were raised in rural, working-class homes a two-hour drive from where we live today by parents who lived their values as teachers and social workers. I was delivered on my kitchen floor by a rural doctor and Leah raised pet goats who often accompanied her into town. We wouldn't be who we are today if it weren't for what our churches, public schools, and communities taught us.
Though we left college with over $150,000 in debt, we worked hard -- first as public school teachers and then as founders of an education business that helped teachers and students collaborate. As the CEO, I negotiated the sale of our company at the age of 28 and was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. During this time, we worked on early childhood education policy at the White House, gave a TEDx Talk on the damaging effects of standardized testing, and collaborated with national leaders like Senator Mark Warner and Representative Gabby Giffords to facilitate nationwide civics lessons in schools. Just this year, I co-led a campaign called “PowerToPublic” to stop billionaire Betsy DeVos from becoming our Secretary of Education because her attempt to defund public schools is a calculated attack on our communities.
Most recently, I taught at a Maine public school in a crumbling trailer and saw first-hand the way our schools are failing to do what’s best for kids because we have lost local control to the federal government. My wife, pregnant with our second child, was offered insultingly high premiums from my employer and wasn't able to see our trusted local doctors because they were not “in-network” through her Affordable Care Act coverage. The cost of childcare is so expensive that our childhood friends are stuck between the rock-and-hard-place decision of going to work with thousands of dollars of childcare costs per year or staying home without enough money to pay the bills. My family and I live with the gnawing awareness that my brother, a Navy helicopter pilot who serves our country with honor, could be drawn away into another misguided war due to the reckless behavior of our current president.
We were raised in the tight-knit communities. What we were blessed with in our families and communities can't be bought; it must be tended and fought for. If our government is ever going to start doing what's right, it needs to actually represent the families and communities we were raised in. That's why I'm running.