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Keepers of the Promise

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Promise Net

Looking back on the first ten years of The Kalamazoo Promise a unique and privately-funded scholarship program, the only things more impressive than the numbers are the people behind it.

At a recent Kalamazoo Rotary meeting Executive Director Kalamazoo Promise Bob Jorth shared ten years of The Promise’s journey that included community-wide celebrations and a national conference, PromiseNet 2015.

The conference was attended by 200 place-based scholarship leaders who gathered to share work being done in their own communities. Governor Rick Snyder also spoke and shared his feelings about the The Promise’s 10th Anniversary.

Though there is work to be done, the future looks bright for The Kalamazoo Promise and its recipients.

“Almost every single Kalamazoo Public School graduate is eligible for The Promise,” said Jorth.

This translates into students being eligible to receive up to 100 percent of their tuition paid at 58 public or private colleges, universities, or community colleges in Michigan.

“That is the strength of The Promise,” said Jorth. “There is no particular demographic that we serve. Each student has their own story.”

To date, there have been 4200 recipients of Promise Scholarships equaling about $70,000,000 awarded by the donors. This fall alone, $6,000,000 in scholarships were awarded. Jorth also shared that 85 percent of Promise-eligible graduates enroll in college within a year. The national average is only 60 percent at similar high schools.

Interestingly, KPS students aren't just going to college in higher numbers ??" they are completing college at higher rates. A recent study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research says that Promise-eligible students are a third more likely to graduate college within six years of finishing high school, compared to KPS peers prior to 2006.

On a positive note some of those Promise recipients have graduated from college and returned to Kalamazoo to teach, work in social services, or volunteer. In some cases they have also purchased homes in the city so that their children can benefit from the scholarship. One recipient will be in the inaugural graduating class at WMU’s Homer Stryker Medical School.

The small victories leading up to the big ones are endless and come from all directions which may be a good problem to have, but it is an overwhelming one.

“Our biggest need right now is community alignment,” said Jorth.

Preparing the students for college and removing barriers to success is apparent with organizations like Communities in Schools and The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo. Reaching beyond to churches, neighborhoods, foundations, nonprofits, schools, community groups, and other people and places that touch the lives of children is essential.

The Kalamazoo Promise 10th Anniversary report pinpoints that “the ability to receive The Promise successfully is totally dependent on the institutions and people who come before it. Because there are so many stakeholders, the alignment and coordination of these people and systems is as challenging as changing the current of a river.”

One such group that complements the mission of The Promise is the Kalamazoo Rotary’s STRIVE Mentoring Program Launched by the Rotary’s New Generations Committee in 2001, volunteers are matched with students from Kalamazoo Central High.

“The Rotary STRIVE mentor program pairs volunteer rotary members with high school students,” said Von Washington Jr., Executive Director Community Relations, Kalamazoo Promise. “The program has helped several high school students through graduation by exposing them to academic support and exposure to a network of community members that have resources and opportunities for them beyond high school. “

A strong building block for success takes strong communication and many volunteers. If you’re interested in being a supporter of The Promise please contact their office at 269-337-0037.

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