I am often asked — where are they now? —when I refer to the 74 Give Something Back Foundation scholars that have graduated from college.
Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with some of these bright, hardworking individuals. I even hired one from Give Back’s first graduating class to serve as Director of Philanthropy for the foundation. I’m sure that if you follow this blog, you’ve read about Frances Brodeur. Frances was a 2007 graduate of Ohio State University and went on to have an impressive career at Chubb Insurance before we both agreed that her best career choice would be to help expand Give Back.
I’ve written about several of these alumni in my two books because their stories are so remarkable. Recently, I asked Frances to track down the rest of the 74 Give Back alumni who graduated from college so I might be able to answer the “where are they now?” question with more certainty.
The report Frances brought back to me simply made my day. I learned that the 74 who graduated from our Give Back program and earned college degrees are all employed. That’s and 100 percent employment rate! It’s not only something to be proud of, but it is more evidence that our scholarship program has been working very effectively.
Many of these college graduates, Frances noted, are teachers. Others work in healthcare and some are getting their master’s degree. There’s also a business owner, an addiction counselor and a newspaper journalist in the mix.
A few years ago, we discovered that a remarkable 90 percent of the students in our program graduate college. But this new data makes our story even more powerful especially when we consider that these kids were all from low-income households — a factor that makes them less likely to go to and graduate from college in the first place. Many of our alumni were also raised by a single parent, most were among the first in their families to go to college, and several experienced considerable adversities during their lives.
It was not easy for these kids to get from point A to point B.
But here they are now — employed and leading productive lives. Some, even starting families of their own. Most are giving back to their communities as I asked them to when I presented them with the scholarship. In fact, over half of them are already Give Back mentors for students who come from the very same background as they did!
On November 29, I reconnected in-person with several of our former scholars when I presented a $1 million gift to the University of Illinois (my alma mater). These funds will be used to send 50 high-achieving students of modest means to U of I for four years — tuition, fees and room and board included.
It was exciting to see some of our former scholars back at U of I and to hear them attribute their success to the support they received from our foundation.
Danielle Cunningham who graduated in ’12 from U of I with degrees in economics and anthropology, is now a merchandise planner at Walgreens and said that Give Back helped secure her future, and her family’s future. “I would say that GSB and a college education does not just affect one individual, but it makes an impact across generations and communities,” she explained.
Adam Bialon, whose family also struggled financially, successfully graduated on time from U of I in ’07 in history and education. He is now a special education teacher and regularly helps at-risk students. He is also a mentor for two Give Back high schoolers. Adam said that being a Give Back recipient has been a tremendous source of pride adding, “I will forever be grateful to Give Back for giving me the break that I needed to go to a fine institution like University of Illinois.”
I was delighted to learn that John Jast, a graduate from the class of ’09 and a development engineer at Ethicon, is growing his family through adoption. He said receiving the scholarship inspired him to “pay it forward.”
There is clearly a relentless cycle that needs to be broken and our foundation is helping to break it. These young adults are an example of what can be accomplished with a little support and a lot of motivation. It also reaffirms that there is nothing better I’d like to be doing with my resources.
I’m proud to announce that we are forming a Give Back alumni association that kicks off on December 19, so there will be even more news on our graduates to share.
It’s a great story we tell. And thanks to our hardworking scholars, it’s one with a very happy ending.