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15 Years of The Kalamazoo Promise

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New Promise Building

For 15 years, The Kalamazoo Promise (The Promise) has provided Kalamazoo students with the gift of education. To commemorate this milestone, we reflected on the organization’s achievements and discussed its future plans with Executive Director Bob Jorth and Executive Director of Community Relations Von Washington, Jr.

“When The Promise was announced, I was a high school principal and I got to see the reaction of students and families to this announcement,” Washington recalled of the scholarship's early days. “Since then, I have been able to see the culture of the education community start to form and get behind this idea.”

Von Washington, Jr.

Part of The Promise in an administrative role since its creation, Jorth is also proud of the effects that it has had.

“It is an extraordinary gift to the community and was incredible to be able to start with a blank sheet of paper,” he added. “To be able watch the impact it has had on individuals and their families, and the fact that now half of our staff is Promise alumni is very gratifying.”

To date, The Promise has served more than 7,000 students and awarded more than $140 million in scholarships. Additionally, the percentage of Kalamazoo Public School graduates that attend college has soared to 95%.

“To have 95% of our students start college is unheard of when 70% of the kids in the community receive free or reduced lunch,” Jorth said of the rapid growth.

Bob Jorth

Across the country, The Promise has gained recognition for what it has been able to do for Kalamazoo’s students. Although the acknowledgement is appreciated, it is understood that there is still work that must be done.

“We want to be a national model as the beginning of The Promise movement and a leader in innovation,” Washington explained. “We do not want to be an organization that says, ‘Here is a scholarship and good luck,’ we want to continue to provide important resources.”

That is where The Promise’s new home comes into play. Acting as a physical manifestation of the organization’s vision, 180 E. Water St. serves as both a physical reminder of the donors’ commitment to The Promise and a resource hub that connects people and organizations.

“The first floor of the building will be home to our Promise Engagement Center, which will help students figure out what their career path is,” Jorth shared. “The Promise has a lot of flexibility to allow students to pursue their dreams and passions, including trade programs. This space will help us engage the community and expand on these opportunities.”

In addition to the Promise Engagement Center, the new space will also feature state-of-the-art computer and tutoring labs.

“We want to provide space for counselors and extensions of other organizations to be able to do what they do,” Washington added. “One of our goals is to create a place of engagement and if students just want a place to come study with their friends, we are going to be that too.”

With preparations being made ahead of the eventual move-in date, staff at The Promise are thankful to the donors and the $145 million-plus dollars they have committed to addressing the educational inequalities that exist today.

“The investment by the donors in human capital is incredible,” Washington stated. “The building is a statement by the donor group, as well as other organizations, to provide and escalate people as they are moving forward in their lives.”

It is generosity like this that makes our city so special. We cannot wait to see what The Promise is able to do in the next 15 years and how their new space will assist them in their mission.

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