Haverford College senior Ralph Alexis wants to pursue a career in hotel and hospitality management and thanks to a local organization, he's on track to graduate in May and may realize his dream.
"They take all of your dreams and goals very seriously and do not stop helping and supporting you until you have achieved all of these goals," said Alexis.
The "they" Alexis is referring to is Philadelphia Futures, a non-profit organization serving about 500 Philadelphia high school and college students. Their mission is to assist Philadelphia first-generation college bound students in need.
The organization recently received the type of help that most non-profits can only dream of.
John Langan and Judy Nadell of Townsend Press, a West Berlin, N.J. company that publishes education materials for primary, secondary and college students recently awarded them a $1M grant.
"In addition to having money to use to launch the strategic plan, the grant has emboldened the staff in ways I can only dream of," said executive director Joan Mazzotti. "Since this grant, the energy is off the charts."
The grant is structured as a $750,000 general donation and a $250,000 challenge grant, requiring matching donations. The funds will be awarded over a three year period and will directly support the organization's strategic plan.
Philadelphia public students are eligible for the Sponsor-A-Scholar program. The non-profit will implement a new program, College Connection -- to support public, charter and parochial Philadelphia students.
"The program instilled in me the importance of hard work and taught me how to be driven and to never give up," said Amber Nichols, an alumnus of the program and graduate of Dickinson College. Nichols is presently pursuing a graduate degree at LaSalle University.
Only 10.3 percent of Philadelphia students earn a college degree, according to The Notebook and the National Student Clearinghouse. Mazzotti states that 80 percent of the 2009 high school class in the Philadelphia Futures program will graduate from college.
"Without a college education, it becomes difficult to have economic independence," said Mazzotti. "There is nothing you can do that is more important than helping a child with their education and provide them with a level playing field."
Mazzotti said the need has never been greater for the students she serves dues to the budget crisis in Philadelphia schools and because there is more competition for less financial aid at some colleges.
In addition to its college programs, Philadelphia Futures distributes 45,000 copies of the Step Up to College guide each year, which can be found in every Philadelphia high school.
Originally founded in 1989, President Bill Clinton presented Philadelphia Futures with the President's Volunteer Action Award in 1994. It merged with the White-Williams Scholars program in 2011.
Philadelphia Futures works with individuals and corporate partners, such as Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies, Lincoln Financial Services, Lenfest Foundation, Citizens Bank and Comcast.
"Simply put, I would not be in college right now if it weren't for Philadelphia Futures. (It) has been a backbone for me, and I know that it has been the same for so many other students," said Alexis.