It was an honor to present checks on behalf of the Give Something Back Foundation to Rowan University, The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, and the University of Delaware. These are institutions that share our vision to provide maximum access to college for all students.
That money is going to help send 300 qualified students of modest means to college for four years — tuition, fees and room and board all included.
I think when you have a foundation such as mine there is a perception that you must be out to change the world. That is not my intention with the Give Something Back Foundation. First of all, can any one individual or organization really accomplish that? I don’t think so.
The late writer and philosopher Carlos Castaneda said, If you only have enough extra money to help a couple of people, then go ahead and help those couple of people. If your means grows larger, you can expand your reach to others who could use a hand.
As Castaneda noted, I believe that one must work from within to without in concentric circles of influence and ability to provide meaningful assistance. When I achieved success, I started helping my family, then extended family, then friends. I was fortunate to have enough resources to expand my circle of influence to include others.
In my mind, putting kids through college is the best way I know to use my resources; it’s the best way I feel I can help change the lives of others.
What exactly are we changing through Give Something Back Foundation scholarships? For starters, we’re changing the mindset of quite a few smart kids who come from low-income families who may think that college is out of the question because they lack the financial resources.
We’re also creating a new model for college scholarship programs by offering our scholarships to 9th graders. By doing this in their freshman year of high school, we put our scholars on an early track to success and best prepare them for the rigors of college. I can say with confidence this approach is working: Our scholarship recipients have achieved an astonishing college graduation rate of 95 percent — and they receive their degree within four years.
It’s also got to be an enormous relief to these kids, who come from poor homes, to know that as early as the 9th grade their college education will be completely paid for — and all they have to do from here on in is focus on maintaining good grades and good character.
We also provide an excellent mentorship program that pairs our scholars with trained adult mentors who keep them on the right path and help them cope with school and life challenges. Once the students reach their senior year of high school, the foundation and mentors assist them with the application process through one of our partner colleges and universities.
Rowan President Dr. Ali Houshmand said, and I concur, that a program like ours has multiplier effects. By giving a kid a break and getting them into college, we’re keeping that child off the streets and on to a more productive life. And when the people around these students — friends, siblings, neighbors — see one of their own succeeding they become motivated to do the same. They realize the possibilities are within reach.
Finally, it is my hope that when our students finish their college education, start their careers and become successful citizens that they, too, will give something back — perhaps providing a lift for others less fortunate.
We may not be changing the world, but we’re certainly changing the lives of as many kids as we can.