Say Yes to Education has received a $1 million gift from the Delaware North Cos. and the Jacobs family, the 10th seven-figure donation the national nonprofit has received to help pay the full cost of college for graduates of Buffalo schools, The Buffalo News has learned.
Private donors have now given $17.5 million to Say Yes Buffalo since the organization came to Buffalo last year, and officials plan to formally announce the latest gift at a news conference this morning.
Say Yes Buffalo backers say this community has embraced the organization’s efforts to improve Buffalo schools, and the group is well on its way to meeting a goal of raising $30 million to support the first decade of scholarships.
“The response has been extraordinary. We are ahead of schedule in implementing the first year of Say Yes,” said Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, who has been closely involved in the fundraising.
Program boosters say officials with the school district, teachers union, city, county and the region’s charitable foundations are working closely to ensure the success of Say Yes Buffalo, which will begin issuing scholarships in 2013.
Say Yes guarantees that any student living in Buffalo who graduates from a district or charter high school in the city will have their college tuition paid at any two- or four-year state school. Students would first apply for financial aid, and any government aid they would receive is shaved off the amount that Say Yes pays.
Donors and volunteers say they hope this initiative will improve graduation rates in Buffalo’s public and charter schools, make those schools more attractive and spur a revival of the city.
“You see an overall growth in the city, a momentum that builds on itself,” said Jeremy M. Jacobs Jr., a principal with Delaware North, which joined a list of some of the region’s most prominent companies and foundations in making its $1 million donation to Say Yes Buffalo.
Say Yes to Education is active in five Northeastern cities, including Syracuse, and the Buffalo partnership that launched in December is the largest.
Graduates of Buffalo public and charter school will be offered scholarships for tuition at State University of New York or City University of New York schools.
About 60 corporations, foundations and members of the public have donated to the Say Yes Buffalo scholarship fund.
“Everybody has stepped up to the table to be part of the solution,” Dedecker said.
Say Yes officials until this week hadn’t identified the top donors, though the Statler Foundation previously revealed its 10-year, $1 million gift. But Dedecker on Tuesday provided the names of the 10 donors who have given at least $1 million.
In addition to the Statler Foundation and Delaware North, they are: the Amgis Foundation, whose directors include Roger L. Hungerford, founder of Sigma International of Medina, maker of medical infusion pumps; the Balbach Family Foundation and Charles Balbach, a founder of Science Kit and other companies; BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York; the Louis P. Ciminelli Family Foundation; the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo; the First Niagara Bank Foundation; the Patrick P. Lee Foundation; and the John R. Oishei Foundation.
Delaware North is a global food service and hospitality company headquartered in Buffalo and privately held by the Jacobs family. The company and its principals give generously to the University at Buffalo, the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and other institutions.
Jeremy Jacobs Jr. said company leaders have considered adopting a school, as other companies in Buffalo have done, but they came to believe the Say Yes Buffalo partnership could lead to “systemic change” in the city’s educational system.
The $1 million donation is spread out over five years, and Jacobs said his family would consider making a follow-up donation if the Say Yes Buffalo initiative bears fruit. “We want to see results,” Jacobs said.
While the Statler Foundation gift must be used to pay the tuition of hospitality students – as required in the will that established the foundation – other donors haven’t attached strings to their gifts, Dedecker said.
When Say Yes officials announced they were coming to Buffalo, they revealed that a behind-the-scenes fundraising effort had, over the previous year, taken in $15 million toward the scholarship fund.
Since December, officials have raised just $2.5 million more.
“It is a continuing effort to raise the funds, and we feel very good about the numbers,” Dedecker said.
Officials last year announced a goal of raising $100 million to cover the first 20 years of the scholarships.
Tuesday, officials said the group’s goal is to raise $30 million to cover the first 10 years of scholarships, while the $100 million remains the “long-term goal,” as Say Yes Buffalo Executive Director David Rust put it.
Both figures are estimates, but Dedecker said the fund would pay out more over the second decade because, if the program succeeds, more city students will be graduating.
Although the scholarship pays for tuition, students’ families are responsible for fees, books and other college-related costs.
Twenty private colleges also have agreed to help pay the tuition costs of some Buffalo high school graduates, though money for this program would not come out of the Say Yes fund.
Eligibility requirements differ for the private schools. Parents seeking details should visit buffalo.sayyestoeducation.org.
In Syracuse, Say Yes awarded a total of $803,023 in scholarships to students attending two- and four-year state schools in 2011, according to the most recent data. The money was divided among 719 students.
On average, each student received $1,100 that year from Say Yes toward tuition costs.
The tuition guarantee earns the most attention, but it is only one piece of Say Yes’ approach to reforming city schools.
The backbone of the Say Yes program involves providing support services to students. Children in high-poverty urban areas often need additional support, the group believes, including after-school programming, summer activities, help from social workers and help navigating the college application process.
As a condition of Say Yes agreeing to work with the Buffalo schools, leaders from the county, city, district and union had to agree to a collaborative governance model for the district. That means representatives from those groups meet every two weeks to work through problems and find ways to pool resources to best serve students.
“Everybody has been very supportive so far,” Rust said.
Staff Reporter Mary B. Pasciak contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org