In 2006, Dr. John McHugh, a retired physician and the instigator of Crusader Community Health, read in his morning paper about Kalmazoo Promise -- and the incredible impact it was having on Kalamazoo, Michigan. By offering the promise that every student who graduates from the Kalamazoo Public Schools would receive a scholarship to college, a small group of anonomous donors had transformed their community: with higher graduation rates, higher college enrollment rates, higher property values and population growth, and -- most of all -- a sense of hope. Within weeks, he'd convinced Alan Ginsberg, Don Williams, Jan Jones and Elaine Breck to found Rockford Promise.
They started raising money. Without a major donor to pay for the whole Promise, it was a grassroots and word of mouth effort. From 2007–2014, $31,500 in scholarships were granted to more than 50 graduates of the Rockford Public Schools. In 2015, with the assistance of Jack Packard and other Excalibur recipients, $16,000 was given by Rockford Promise to the Rock Valley College Foundation for scholarships to students who were 2015 graduates of the Rockford Public Schools, and planned to pursue training in aeronautics maintenance.
On the tenth anniversary of the founding, it was time to reimagine Rockford Promise. New Board Members were added and a new, transfomative commitment was made.
We decided it was time to show what the Promise could mean with scholarships that, in addition to other scholarships a student might receive, equaled the full cost of attendance. Not a little help, but a promise: you will have enough money to complete your degree. And we focused on two Rockford neighborhoods: Ellis Heights and Midtown. We entered into powerful partnerships with RPS, Rock Valley College, and Rockford University, who agreed to support financially and through mentorships, these Promise Scholars.
In 2016, we awarded five full scholarships. Jennifer Rosales, Alondra Torres, Erica Bibalou, "Jimmy" Boliboun, and Victoria Zwicky-Reed were our first class of Rockford Promise Scholars. Their stories -- which you can and should view by clicking on their names -- inspired the community and convinced us all this was the right path.
In 2017 we awarded ten full scholarships: two to Rockford University and eight to Rock Valley College.
Four scholarships were named scholarships: the SwedishAmerican Medical Group Scholar (Dayana Rosales), the Dr. Nameer Mardini Family Scholar (Uwezo Msambya), the OSF/St. Anthony Medical Center Scholar (Alexis Jefferson), and the Rockford Urology Associates Scholar (Magdaleno Mendoza). Named Scholarships are a great way for businesses and organizations to align their efforts with Rockford Promise. The other six Rockford Promise Scholars in 2017 were Vanessa Peoples, Rebecca Conkling, Tha Kya, Nestor Moreno-Gonzalez, Oscar Neito-Perez, and Kevin Zaragoza.
This was, again, an amazing group of students with enormous potential for their own lives and our city. These scholarships were made possible by named donations and by our first community-wide party, Raise the Roof 2016. It was clear: Rockford Promise had the potential and needed to be a top priority for our community.
In 2018, we hope to award 20 Rockford Promise Scholarships: two to Rockford University and eighteen to Rock Valley College. Growing community support and momentum will unlock more giving and generosity, and the Promise will grow year after year. Eventually, we will provide adequate "last-dollar" scholarship funds so that every student who graduates from the Rockford Public Schools and is admitted to a qualified post-secondary program will be able to afford to attend.
And when this happens, transformation happens. Every student in the district knows post-secondary education or training is an option. The Promise aligns with the Career and College Academies and Readiness goals, removing barriers. People move into Rockford, and businesses locate here, for the great schools and for the Promise. And the Scholars, most of who choose to stay in our community, start businesses, invest in our city, and help us all thrive.