Overcast skies did nothing to dampen the festive mood as scholars, donors, family mentors and school partners alike gathered at The College of New Jersey’s campus last Saturday afternoon in a celebration of student achievement.
The Give Something Back Foundation hosted a kick-off event for the inaugural year of the organization’s mid-Atlantic chapter featuring various speeches from the Give Something Back Foundation staff, affiliates and student scholars.
The Illinois-based Give Something Back Foundation is an educational philanthropy that provides mentors and awards college scholarships to Pell Grant-eligible students. The organization works with high school administrators and teachers to identify freshman students with academic potential and who come from financially strapped families.
Once completing a rigorous application process, students selected as Give Something Back scholars are expected to live on campus and complete their college degree in four years.
“Obtaining a college education provides these students with the opportunity to compete without the worry of a financial hurdle. The Give Something Back Foundation scholarship makes the pursuit of their dreams that much more achievable,” said Michell Lin, who served as the liaison from The College of New Jersey to the Give Something Back Foundation staff in coordinating the event.
Saturday’s event celebrated the achievements and bright futures of 53 newly minted Give Something Back Foundation scholars.
Following an outdoor lunch attendees were ushered into the Mildred & Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall for speeches by foundation supporters and foundation chair and founder, Bob Carr.
Bob Carr founded Give Something Back in 2003 and is the foundation’s main donor. Through a combination of Carr’s generosity and additional fundraising efforts the foundation has provided college tuition, room and board to 493 scholars to date. The foundation currently operates in Delaware, Illinois and New Jersey.
Wally Kappeler, program director of the Rowan University First Star Academy, a four-year rigorous college-prep program for foster youth, kicked off the event by challenging audience members to close their eyes and visualize themselves or a loved one walking across a stage to receive a college diploma. “You’re gonna have to tell me how it ends,” Kappeler said.
Among the audience were the 30 students of the South Jersey First Star Collaborative, a public-private partnership that aims to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged young people, and all of whom recently received full college scholarships from the Give Something Back Foundation to attend a New Jersey institution.
Kelly Dun, the Give Something Back Foundation’s mid-Atlantic executive director, announced that the organization is now partnered with six New Jersey institutions, including The College of New Jersey, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Montclair State University, Rowan University, St. Peter’s University and William Paterson University.
“The partnership with Give Something Back helps scholars obtain a college education, while helping the College of New Jersey offer financial support to talented and deserving students,” Lin said.
“My advice is to dream as big as Mount Everest because the more you dream, the more you want to reach that dream and work for it,” said Dr. Ali Houshmand, president of Rowan University.
Current Give Something Back Foundation scholars spoke about how the scholarships have impacted their lives.
“These scholarships give kids who struggle financially the chance to achieve their goals,” said Leidy Bonilla, a tenth grade Give Something Back Foundation scholar.
“I want use this to give back by becoming a doctor and treating kids with cancer,” Bonilla said.
Scholar Justin Polanco joked that Carr could have used his money to buy a yacht, but “instead trusted in all of us.”
Carr’s foundation has “inspired me to give back to my community,” Polanco said.
Ninety percent of Give Something Back Foundation scholars have completed college in four years, compared to a national average of under 50 percent.
Bill Waterman, a Bridgeton, New Jersey, high school counselor, was awarded the Give Something Back Foundation’s inaugural service recognition award for his work in fostering connections between his students and the Give Something Back Foundation’s scholarship process.
In addition to providing scholarships, the foundation pairs each scholar with a Give Something Back Foundation mentor to guide them through college years and beyond.
“We’re all here to help you, to guide you to success,” said Dr. Eugene Cornacchia, president of St. Peter’s University. “Stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize,” Cornacchia said.
Joshua Meekins, program coordinator of the foundation’s mid-Atlantic chapter, and a former Give Something Back Foundation scholar, reflected on the opportunities he received from the foundation to attend Princeton Day School and Villanova University.
“Someone else believed in me, so why couldn’t I believe in myself?” Meekins said.
“This is not luck, you’ve earned it,” Meekins told the scholars. “Let your light shine and inspire others around you.”