Ch­ester County Fu­tures marks 20th an­niver­sary

Ch­ester County Fu­tures gets help from area com­pa­nies to help low-in­come stu­dents find suc­cess­ful ca­reers

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian McCul­lough bm­c­cul­lough@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @wc­dai­ly­lo­cal on Twit­ter

The or­ga­ni­za­tion is ded­i­cated to try­ing to level the play­ing field for low-in­come Ch­ester County stu­dents.

An or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to try­ing to level the play­ing field for low-in­come Ch­ester County stu­dents is mark­ing 20 years in ex­is­tence with a nod to the busi­nesses that have helped turn around more than 1,000 young lives.

For 20 years, Ch­ester County Fu­tures has pro­vided ed­u­ca­tional sup­port for stu­dents in the Coatesville, Ken­nett Con­sol­i­dated, Ox­ford Area, Phoenixville Area and West Ch­ester Area school dis­tricts.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Exton works with the school dis­tricts and area busi­nesses to mo­ti­vate the stu­dents to earn a high school diploma and post­sec­ondary de­gree “in or­der to break out of the fa­mil­ial cy­cle of poverty and be­come mean­ing­ful con­trib­u­tors to the com­mu­ni­ties in which they live.”

For 16 straight years, Ch­ester County Fu­tures, or CCF, has achieved a 100 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate and stu­dents have gone onto area uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges in­clud­ing West Ch­ester, Franklin & Mar­shall, Cabrini, Le­high and Deni­son.

“Much of these re­sults stem from CCF men­tors pro­vid­ing one-on-one at­ten­tion and cor­po­rate part­ner­ships,” said Ch­ester County Fu­tures Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Maria McDon­ald. “Men­tors pro­vide the en­cour­age­ment and sup­port our stu­dents need to make pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tional and life choices, while cor­po­rate part­ner­ships

For 16 straight years, Ch­ester County Fu­tures has achieved a 100 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate and stu­dents have gone onto area uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges.

of­fer sup­port to the or­ga­ni­za­tion as well as the stu­dents.”

Suc­cess­ful part­ner­ships in­clude the re­cent SAP So­cial Sab­bat­i­cal Project in which em­ploy­ees of SAP, with New­town Square head­quar­ters, worked with Ch­ester County Fu­tures to cre­ate Steps 4 Suc­cess pro­gram that en­com­passes the Col­lege Prep Boot­camp.

“We were one of six non­prof­its cho­sen and the only one in Ch­ester County to be cho­sen,” McDon­ald said of SAP’s help through the sab­bat­i­cal project.

Other top cor­po­rate sup­port­ers are Voya Fi­nan­cial, Chatham Fi­nan­cial, AT&T, PECO and “many oth­ers,” McDon­ald said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Voya, the in­vest­ment com­pany with a large pres­ence in West White­land, pro­vides em­ploy­ees to men­tor stu­dents at least once a week and meet with them at least once a month to mon­i­tor their progress.

The pro­gram doesn’t stop in high school: vol­un­teers stay in touch with the stu­dents when they go to col­lege.

“Eighty-five per­cent (of par­tic­i­pat­ing stu­dents) are first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents,” McDon­ald noted, so they have no sup­port net­work on which to fall back. “That’s where the men­tor steps in.”

Na­tional stud­ies show the con­tin­ued in­volve­ment is nec­es­sary for suc­cess, McDon­ald said. Only 11 per­cent of low-in­come col­lege stu­dents grad­u­ate in four years; for Ch­ester County Fu­tures stu­dents, the fig­ure is 44 per­cent, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor said.

“Our goal is to get it to 100 per­cent,” McDon­ald said.

Chatham Fi­nan­cial, an in­vest­ment ad­vi­sory and tech­nol­ogy com­pany, is help­ing pre­pare sev­en­t­hand eighth-grade stu­dents by giv­ing them ex­po­sure to ca­reers that are avail­able to them.

“It plants seeds for col­lege ex­plo­ration,” McDon­ald noted.

The com­pany also held a mar­ket­ing work­shop for 60 Ken­nett area stu­dents in which groups came up with lo­gos, pam­phlets, a web­site and so­cial me­dia mes­sages. At the end of the ses­sion, the groups voted on their fa­vorites.

Chatham also pro­vides vol­un­teers to men­tor stu­dents.

“The whole pur­pose is to have them build self-es­teem by com­mu­ni­cat­ing with adults,” McDon­ald said.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion works with an an­nual bud­get of just over $1 mil­lion, McDon­ald said, and it re­ceives no gov­ern­ment fund­ing. It has 15 staff mem­bers who work with the stu­dents, par­ents, school dis­tricts and com­pa­nies to keep the stu­dents on track.

“I’m very proud of the fact that 82 cents of ev­ery dol­lar goes di­rectly to pro­gram­ming,” McDon­ald said, adding the or­ga­ni­za­tion is ap­proved for the state Ed­u­ca­tion Im­prove­ment Tax Credit pro­gram.

The sat­is­fac­tion of her job comes when she meets grad­u­ates who have gone all the way through the pro­gram, she said. After 20 years, some grad­u­ates are now men­tors.

“I was at Kaolin (Mush­rooms, in Ken­nett Square) on a visit talk­ing about Ch­ester County Fu­tures and they said, ‘wait a minute, I think we have a cou­ple of your alumni work­ing for us. Sure enough, there were two work­ing in their of­fice. There’s a young man who grad­u­ated from Im­mac­u­lata who works at a lab in Malvern, another is a man­ager at a se­nior liv­ing com­mu­nity.

This year, there are 456 stu­dents en­rolled in Ch­ester County Fu­tures from mid­dle school through col­lege. The 1,000th high school stu­dent, from Ox­ford, reg­is­tered this year.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO — CH­ESTER COUNTY FU­TURES

High school stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in the Ch­ester County An­nual Col­lege and Ca­reer Expo at Cabrini Univer­sity in Au­gust.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO — CH­ESTER COUNTY FU­TURES

Karelis Pickus, left, a 2006 grad­u­ate of Ch­ester County Fu­tures from Coatesville Area High School, and CCF Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Maria McDon­ald pose for a photo. Pickus is a mem­ber of the CCF Alumni Com­mit­tee and vol­un­teers reg­u­larly for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO — CH­ESTER COUNTY FU­TURES

High school stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in the Ch­ester County An­nual Col­lege and Ca­reer Expo at Cabrini Univer­sity in Au­gust.

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