Over the years, I have often quoted the book Toxic Charity by Dr. Robert Lupton, which has become a manual of sorts for our industry. In the book, he states, "We cannot serve others out of poverty." He goes on for the entire book talking about how we must develop people to the point they can lift themselves out of poverty. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with serving people, and serving them at high levels. But, and this is Dr. Lupton's point, personal development that gives capacity for growth is what will lift poor families out of poverty and towards self-sufficiency.
Skill development and education are really the critical tools individuals need to improve their circumstances. I'm sure I could quote a bevy of studies to back up this claim, but I think we can all agree that access to early education (prenatal care and continuing through pre-Kindergarten) sets the stage for a lifetime of positive brain development and enrichment. After that, robust education that continues to college or trade/technical school prepares an individual for career opportunities with upward growth potential.
For low-income families, it is easy to fall off the education path. It's expensive to get connected to solid early childhood education, and if families move a lot, it's difficult to maintain success in a public school setting. For those that get through high school, the high cost of public education or workforce training can be extreme barriers to building those skills. Furthermore, lower-income families may not be surrounded with mentors that encourage education and upward mobility, or they might lack the guidance that is needed to navigate these systems.
CSL's Higher Education Champions, Nancy and John Kimak, approached CSL and Truman Heartland Community Foundation (THCF) several months ago to begin a conversation about raising funds for education to permanently end a family’s cycle of poverty. The investment would be centered on educational initiatives for the families we serve.
Nancy and John Kimak
Phil Hanson, CEO of THCF, arranged a meeting with KC Scholars to learn more about work in this arena. KC Scholars was established and funded in 1988 by the Kauffman Foundation as an extension of Mr. Kauffman’s commitment to supporting post-secondary achievement for low-and modest-income students. Now its own 501(c)(3) entity, KC Scholars CEO Beth Tankersley-Bankhead met with us and we learned that through their traditional college scholarship program, they gave approximately 288 scholarships to low- to moderate-income students in a six-county area in 2017. Each award is worth up to $50,000 over five years, and KC Scholars does a tremendous amount of outreach and college guidance counseling, beginning in high school and continuing throughout the college career.
At the end of our KC Scholars meeting, we learned about Named Scholarships. KC Scholars will allow a donor to make a $2,500/year gift for five years ($12,500 total) to have a Named Scholarship. KC Scholars will match the donor 3:1 ($7,500/year for five years - $37,500 total). The donor may designate the scholarship go to a student in a particular county, city, high school, neighborhood, etc.
Student scholarships are a robust industry. Countless philanthropists, businesses, and organizations offer modest awards. As higher education costs have ballooned, some scholarships barely cover a few textbooks. This initiative can serve as a rallying point for some consolidation of scholarships, especially through public school or community foundations. Leveraging the immense resources of KC Scholars is an incredible incentive.
CSL is strengthened when we connect to our donors’ passions and interests. The Kimaks will help steward this community CSL Scholarship Initiative and invite others to join them. It is easy to see that this could be an initiative with millions of dollars in support in a few years. For low-income students, a college degree and experience can put their life on a different trajectory, one that will hopefully never intersect with poverty again.
I'm pleased to tell you that we raised enough commitments to fund four Named Scholarships through the KC Scholars: CSL Scholarship Initiative for families within our community. We will meet those four recipients in May 2018. These four students will receive up to $200,000 in cumulative college funding over the next five years. We are so committed to this effort, that an endowment has been established with a $25,000 gift to ensure that scholarships are perpetually funded in this arena. But, this is only the start.
This initiative would create a “trifecta” of educational supports and tools used by CSL. Our growing work in Bridges to Career Opportunities (adult re-training), the Dr. Cliff and Patty Mohn Early Education Initiative (pre-K), and the CSL Scholars Initiative bring to focus the importance of education and training as an educational pathway out of poverty.
CSL is looked at as the catalyst for change in our EJC community. We are progressive in combatting poverty, and willing to invest in change strategies. We have an obligation, as one of the largest anti-poverty organizations in the Greater Kansas City area, to serve as the focal point for new initiatives. We are not inventing new ways to serve families, we are just working at being very intentional in connecting low-income students to higher education, and using philanthropy to make sure that a life spent battling poverty is in their rear view mirror forever.
I look forward to providing ongoing updates about our progress in this area.