GREENSBORO, N.C. – A couple has pledged $1 million to help bring the national Say Yes to Education program to Guilford County.

“We are delighted to be part of this gigantic effort and wish to remain anonymous, as this is not about us,” the donors said in a statement through The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro. “It is about giving students the opportunity to pursue a college degree. This program is also about building stable families and encouraging personal responsibility, because without this individual commitment Say Yes to Education runs the risk of becoming just another educational initiative.”

A local Say Yes program would provide all eligible graduates of the Guilford County Schools system a last-dollar tuition scholarship for post-secondary education. Supporters say this would result in far-ranging, positive effects on the community, including a more educated labor force, incentives for businesses to start or relocate into the area, a stronger tax base, increased property values and more.

“I am grateful to these individuals for their generosity, but more so for their commitment to helping our young people succeed,” said Maurice “Mo” Green, superintendent of Guilford County Schools. “Knowing we have this level of support in the community gives added strength to all of us in Guilford County Schools.”

Say Yes scholarships to public universities are supported by the monies generated from an endowment fund – and to fully support the student base of the Guilford County Schools system, it is estimated that $70 million must ultimately be raised for the endowment.

“The commitment by these generous individuals demonstrates the ongoing – and, in fact, growing – support for bringing this revolutionary approach to education to our community,” said Walker Sanders, president of The Community Foundation. “I want to thank these donors for recognizing the importance of Say Yes for Guilford County and getting behind it with such great charity.”

Say Yes to Education hopes to announce its next community partner by this fall. All financial pledges in support of the program locally are contingent on Say Yes officially choosing Guilford as its next community partner. To date:

  • Phillips Foundation: $5 million
  • The Edward M. Armfield, Sr. Foundation: Up to $5 million
  • Earl and Kitty Congdon family, High Point: $2 million
  • Anonymous family in High Point: $2 million
  • VF Corporation: $2 million
  • United Guaranty Corporation: $1 million
  • Weaver Foundation: $1.25 million
  • Slane family, High Point: $1 million
  • David R. Hayworth, High Point: $1 million
  • Rob and Susan Culp family, High Point: $1 million
  • Anonymous individual in High Point: $1 million
  • Anonymous couple in area: $1 million
  • Cone Health Foundation: $1 million
  • The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro: $1 million

Background

In early 2014, Guilford County Schools and the Guilford Education Alliance – with the support and assistance of The Community Foundation and the High Point Community Foundation – launched an exploration of a potential partnership with Say Yes to Education.

Say Yes to Education informed Guilford County in January that it is the leading candidate to be the nation’s next Say Yes community. The national organization hopes to make a final decision about Guilford by fall.

Say Yes to Education, Inc. – usually referred to simply as “Say Yes” – was founded in 1987 by money manager George Weiss, who promised 112 sixth graders at a Philadelphia elementary school that he would pay for their college education if they graduated high school. Say Yes, which has its headquarters in Manhattan, later opened smaller chapters (typically serving 100 to 300 public school students) in Cambridge, Mass.; Hartford, Conn., and Harlem in New York City, as well as two more in Philadelphia.

Over the last decade, Say Yes’ mission has evolved to encompass entire communities. Say Yes has thus far worked with local partners to implement its community-wide strategy in the upstate New York cities of Syracuse (since 2008) and Buffalo (2012). 

What makes the Say Yes program unique is that it is not simply about providing last-dollar tuition scholarships. In addition, Say Yes helps provide those students and their families with the academic, social-emotional and other supports to ensure that they can seize that opportunity. In other Say Yes communities, supports include tutoring, after-school programs, summer programs, medical care, counseling and legal help. Say Yes would invest $15 million in seed funding for such supports in Guilford County. However, Guilford County would decide what local supports are needed here, not the Say Yes organization.

Say Yes also invests in seed and expansion funding, capacity and technology. The national organization provides significant staff resources to put together long-term financial plans so that the work its partner communities engage in is sustainable. Its $15 million would be invested here over three to five years. After that, Say Yes would provide modest funding to cover the cost of a small coordinating staff on an ongoing basis.

Say Yes to Education already has invested more than $1 million in Guilford to conduct feasibility studies, share its vision and to create some basic structure for moving forward. The Say Yes team has visited area schools and met with diverse stakeholders from across the community to explore what it would mean to bring Say Yes here. This includes parents, students, teachers, nonprofits, business leaders, faith leaders, college and university administrators, and local government officials.

People can follow Guilford’s Say Yes efforts at GuilfordSaysYes.com and on Facebook at facebook.com/GuilfordSaysYes.

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