Jul 02, 2009 Herm Card Uncategorized
Say Yes to Education in Syracuse — a City Eagleseries, Part IV
On Thursday night, the Say Yes Summer Camp counselors were guests of the Eagle Newspapers at the annual Eagle Newspaper Night at Alliance Bank Stadium. On Friday, they graduated from their two weeks of training to facilitate the six-week summer program at the Corcoran Quadrant’s elementary schools.
Their graduation on Friday was actually the second part of a doubleheader — not baseball, but education.
At a lunch time press conference at POMCO headquarters in Eastwood, several major funding announcements were made that further enhanced the Say Yes to Education program in the Syracuse City School District.
The big players were all there — George Weiss, founder of Say Yes, Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, President of the education foundation, Dan Lowengard, SCSD Superintendent, and representatives of Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor. This part of the day’s lineup was about to come through for Say Yes in a big way.
Schmitt-Carey up at bat
Schmitt-Carey announced a number of past and future monetary gifts to the program, including $2,600,000 from the city of Syracuse, $2,400,000 from Onondaga County, $2,000,000 from Wegmans (for the Hillside Center for Children), $1,350,000 from NYS (through the efforts of State Legislator Bill Magnarelli), $1,000,000 matching fund from the Central New York Community Foundation, $350,000 from the SU Board of Trustees, and more than half a million dollars in in-kind support from SU.
Schmitt-Carey (described by Weiss as a “pit bull that no one can say no to when it comes to Say Yes”) thanked other groups that have also donated money, equipment and resources to help make Say Yes successful.
Welch Allyn, for example, has donated medical equipment to school-based health centers, and Harris Beach law firm has organized legal clinics to provide free legal services to families.
You can’t just make it happen
Weiss, who founded Say Yes in 1987 and Schmitt-Carey both made it clear that one of the major strengths of the program in Syracuse is that it has received bi-partisan support.
Weiss said when he approached the Governor of Pennsylvania, a University of Pennsylvania classmate of his, with the Say Yes program, the governor said that he would tell a number of cities in that state to implement the program.
“I told him you can’t do that. You can’t just tell people to set aside politics to make something work. People in Syracuse are doing it because it is the right thing to do, and it is working,” he said.
The Say Yes program receives two major boosts.
POMCO will match employee contributions to Say Yes, and POMCO Chief Executive Officer Bob Pomfrey announced that he is personally establishing a Say Yes scholarship at SU in honor of his parents.
“The biggest thing I’ve done in my life,” he said.
It will cover tuition for city students through Say Yes. Pomfrey’s parents met at SU as students.
SRC, formerly Syracuse Research Corporation, also is adding to the Say Yes funding. In announcing SRC’s commitment, $500,000 – going to the Central New York Community Foundation in a matching fund set up for scholarships, Jim Holland, executive vice president said that “We see this not as a gift, but as an investment in the future.”
Superintendent Lowengard concluded the program, thanking everyone who has donated, but emphasizing, “Huge donations make an impact, but so do small ones — $25, $100, everything helps.”
“We want this to be part of the culture of Syracuse, that we are willing to help our kids get through college,” he said.
At the conclusion of the press conference, the key players left POMCO for Crouse College on the SU Campus for the 2:30 p.m. graduation ceremony — and made the change of venue with time to spare.
Where the action is
And what a change it was. The audience changed dramatically — from 50 or so business people in corporate uniforms to 130 college students in blue “Say Yes to Education” T shirts, plus another group of staff in their own white Say Yes T shirts. From the corporate world that will provide the wherewithal to finance and make the program viable, the audience shifted to the young, energetic and deeply committed college students who will make it happen.
And what a shift it was. If education had a Rock Fest, this would be it.
There were no ties worn on this podium. Instead an audience who idolizes rock stars were the rock stars. As SU’s director of Say Yes, Rachel Gazdick, introduced the staff from each of the six participating schools, she was greeted by each schools theme chant — loud — energetic — a reflection of a program that works.
Weiss spoke in an entirely different tone than he had at POMCO. He took the stage to a standing ovation rather than the business-like applause, and revealed himself as in touch with the young people in front of him. Weiss a legendary Wall Street trader, also is studying for his sixth degree black belt as a martial artist. Adept at addressing corporate leaders with financial interests on the line, he is equally adept at addressing audiences with urban education and the future of America’s youth on the line.
And, he is equally adept at addressing the youth that will benefit and the slightly older young adults that will be a critical piece in implementing the program.
Telling the summer camp counselors that the negative things they hear about education are “BS,” he shared with them the energy of a man truly committed to making things better for urban youth.
He told of being moved to tears by some of the responses from students who have benefited from Say Yes, citing the stories of two young women from Syracuse, Amber Jackson (Nottingham) and Janise Carmichael (Corcoran) who had addressed the gathering at Pomco. They had both thanked him for making their upcoming college education (at Hobart William Smith and the University of Rochester, respectively) financially possible.
He revealed that he was so taken by the dance and musical performances of some of the Say Yes counselors that had he known they were performing, he “would have done a rap number,” announcing to a laughing crowd that “My rap name is Vanilla Weiss.” On his way back to his seat, to another “standing O,” he broke into a little dance step, out of place perhaps in corporate America, but the essence of the man who may very well rewrite the story of education in urban America.
Editor’s note: Next week part II of the Dan Lowengard intreview with Herm Card.