Member Spotlight: Give Something Back

February 2017 Member Spotlight: Give Something Back

Updated Give Back

SNAPSHOT:

Elevator Speech: Give Something Back (“Give Back”) is an educational focused public charity that provides mentors and scholarships to help Pell Grant-eligible students go to college and graduate in four years, debt free. The program selects lower-income, academically driven students in 9th grade through an application and interview process. Once enrolled, Give Back pairs them with mentors, offers them academic and social enrichment programming, and requires them to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA while taking a college preparatory course load. Scholars then attend a Give Back partner college or university, debt free, and graduate in four years. Founded in 2003, Give Back currently serves over 200 students annually, and has expanded to locations in Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The organization has seen strong results, as Give Back’s scholar alumni have a 90% on-time graduation rate at 4-year colleges and 100% employment rate among alumni with college degrees.

NPEA Member Type: Organizational Member
Leadership: Robert Carr (Trustee, President and CEO)
Interviewees: Kelly Dun (Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Chapter) and Kathleen O’Connor (Deputy Director, Mid-Atlantic Chapter)
Contact Information: koconnor@giveback.ngo, (609) 281-5198 ext. 102
Location(s): Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania
Year Founded: 2003
Staffing: Across the regional sites, there are over 20 FTEs, a small number of part-time and/or seasonal staff, and a robust network of more than 175 volunteer mentors.
Students Served: Give Something Back serves over 200 combined high school and college students annually.
“About Us”: About, Scholars, Blog, News
Get Involved: Contact Us, Donate, Mentors
Main Website: http://www.giveback.ngo/
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube


INTERVIEW:

Click on the links below to learn more, or scroll down to read the full interview.

Q: Please provide a brief overview of Give Something Back (“Give Back”).
A: Give Back is an educational focused public charity that provides mentors and scholarships to help Pell Grant-eligible students go to college and graduate in four years, debt free. The program selects lower-income, academically driven students in 9th grade through an application and interview process. Once enrolled, Give Back offers them academic and social enrichment programming, pairs them with mentors, and requires them to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA while taking a college preparatory course load. Scholars then attend a Give Back partner college or university. Founded in 2003, Give Back currently serves over 200 students annually, and has expanded to locations in Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The organization has seen strong results, as Give Back’s scholar alumni have a 90% on-time graduation rate at 4-year colleges and 100% employment rate among alumni with college degrees. In addition more than half of Give Back college graduates have become mentors themselves.

A major contributor to Give Back’s success is its unique financial model. The program recognizes that even with university and government financial aid, the cost of college is often still unmanageable for most lower-income families. Give Back has always helped scholars to access every federal and state grant dollar they qualify for, but this still often results in a “gap” for which scholars and their families are expected to be responsible. To fund this gap, Give Back figured out an exceptionally innovative pre-paid model. The model, which means the donations go further and allows our scholars the opportunity to graduate college in fours years, debt free, works as follows:

  1. Give Back selects a partner college and provides a large, upfront contribution to the school.
  2. The college can use the contribution as unrestricted dollars for four years before Give Back scholars ever set foot on campus – typically earning interest.
  3. In exchange, the college generously fills the rest of the financial gap so that tuition, fees, and if applicable, room and board are covered for the scholars.
  4. A written partner agreement outlines that the college will reserve a designated number of spots for Give Back scholars at a deeply discounted cost.

To ensure the model is successful, Give Back works hard to not make promises to scholars it cannot keep, despite rising costs of college or future economic downturns. Back to top.

Q: Please share a little more about the history of Give Back. What significant events and/or people have shaped the mission and goals of your organization?
A: Give Back was established through the generosity of Bob Carr, founder of Heartland Payment Systems. Mr. Carr received a $250 scholarship grant from the Lockport Women’s Club in Illinois when he was accepted as a student at the University of Illinois. The money motivated Mr. Carr to reach higher goals and inspired him to want to give back to the club when he was able. He presented the Lockport Women’s Club with a check for $100,000 on the organization’s 100th anniversary, 40 years later. He continued to fund scholars through the organization and founded Give Something Back in 2003. In 2015, Give Back expanded to Delaware and New Jersey, and is currently planning for its expansion to New York and Pennsylvania. Back to top.

Q: Speaking of growth, please share what plans Give Back has for its future. What next steps and goals are you focused on?
A:
 Give Back’s main plans for the future are to increase the number of students we support and send to college. As we expand to other states, we are working strategically to create a replicable model. In addition, we are increasing fundraising efforts to ensure Give Back’s sustainability. Back to top.

Q: NPEA is committed to creating a culture of data with and for its members through NPEA Data Counts. In what ways does Give Back currently use data to inform decisions and programming?
A: Give Back started small with our founder’s high school in Illinois. With the recent expansion into other states, we have started focusing more heavily on collecting data. We have always tracked our scholars’ academic progress and success — our students need to maintain a 3.0 GPA in high school to stay in the program, as well as maintain an excellent record of behavior and attendance. Our volunteer mentors help program staff to collect report cards quarterly from all our scholars. NPEA Data Counts has been a great resource for us as we move forward with our data collection efforts. Back to top.

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Q: What challenges, if any, has your organization encountered in college access work? What has Give Back learned from these experiences?
A: Like many programs with a mentoring component, our main challenge has been the recruitment and retention of volunteer mentors. Research shows that lower-income young adults who have a mentor are twice as likely to enroll in college (MENTOR). Thus, mentors are as essential to our scholars as the financial assistance we provide. Each of our scholarship recipients is paired with a qualified mentor or within a mentor group to help the student stay on track, reach successive goals, and navigate the complexities of college preparation.

As our organization grows, we continue to look for efficiencies in evaluating our success and making our program offerings more impactful. We’d love to hear from other NPEA members who have worked through similar challenges and find out what strategies they have in place to deal with these issues. Back to top.

A: With regard to partnerships and collaborations, how has Give Back developed partnerships with other schools, college access programs, organizations, universities, and others to further Give Back’s work?
A: We have partnered with colleges, community-based organizations, high school counselor groups, and mentoring organizations to help ensure the success of our scholars. These include (but are not limited to) Blackburn College, Lewis University, Mercy College, Montclair State University, Northern Illinois University, Rowan University, Saint Peter’s University, Ed Snider Youth Hockey, The Anthony Robbins Foundation, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of Delaware, University of Illinois, University of St. Francis, William Patterson University, and Williamson College of the Trades. The colleges and universities noted in this list are where we partner to send our scholars.

In addition, we have partnered with MENTOR (The National Mentoring Partnership) to build and evaluate our mentoring program.

Please email slymar@giveback.ngo if you are interested in learning more about partnering with Give Back. Back to top.

Q: Kathleen, please provide a brief summary of how you came to be the Deputy Director at Give Back. What insights have you gained from your professional trajectory?
A: 
My path into educational nonprofit work was a bit nontraditional. I got my B.A. in journalism and art history from Rutgers University in 1983, and then worked various positions in marketing and communications—including for Gannett as well as various advertising agencies—for over 26 years. I was a copywriter, project editor, content manager, researcher, and finally a senior copywriter with Bob Carr’s company, Heartland Payment Systems.

In July of 2015 I was offered the opportunity to use my expertise to help expand Give Back and joined the Mid-Atlantic team as the Director of Marketing & Communications, and then was recently promoted to Deputy Director. What I can say is that without a doubt, this is the best work I have ever done. It’s truly inspiring to work for an organization that makes such a difference in the lives of so many young people.

If I had to give advice, it would be that as a new chapter of an educational focused organization, we have learned so much from others in the field. There are groups out there who have best practices and we realized quickly that we can model our programs from them — rather than having to reinvent the wheel. They have pointed us in the right direction, and to the right people. Networking has been essential for us and we have learned to not be afraid to ask for help. Our contacts are so responsive to that! This field is a community of people that really wants to help each other, because ultimately the need is so great and we all have the same end goal. Back to top.

Q: How has Give Back benefited from membership in NPEA?
A: The NPEA Annual Conference in Baltimore last year was a tremendous eye-opener for us. As a new organization on the east coast, it was one of the first professional development opportunities we took advantage of. When you don’t even know what you don’t know, you truly need to find a group like NPEA in order to really allow you to learn from the field and to ultimately expand the possibilities for your students. We cannot wait to attend again in 2017! Back to top.