I was always taught that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” As a child growing up in suburban Massachusetts, I knew I’d won the lottery of life in having a fantastic public school district to attend, a safe and stable home life, and the attention of two loving and supportive parents. College, or any form of education for that matter, was never a question but an expectation.
Living within 50 miles of many of the most elite institutions of higher learning in the nation, I never wondered that this was my path. However, with this understanding also came an awareness of the uniqueness of my situation. I knew I was lucky — very lucky in fact — that college was a given, and that there was a likelihood of launching into the world prepared for whatever career I might choose. Education was the best gift my family could give me, and I knew that it was something that I wanted to pass on to others as well.
Although my path was somewhat winding, this abiding belief has stayed with me throughout my professional career. As a director of financial aid at several independent schools, I looked for ways to increase educational access and equality. I volunteered time with urban charter schools to help parents understand the complicated process of applying for assistance, and worked with community organizations such as Breakthrough Manchester and New Jersey SEEDS. There came a moment when I realized, however, that I wanted to take this 10% of my job and make it my full-time responsibility.
This past July, when the opportunity presented itself to join the Give Something Back Foundation, a nonprofit that helps low-income students get to and through college free of debt, I knew I’d won the lottery yet again.
All of us have had “first days” — starting a new job, school, project, etc. — and we remember the emotions that come with them. However, my first day with the Give Something Back Foundation set a new bar for memorable life moments. On July 11, 2016, I got to travel to Rowan University to meet with the 30 middle and high school students who were a part of the South Jersey First Star Collaborative.
First Star is an amazing organization; according to its website, it “partners with universities throughout the country to make a long-term investment in foster youth and change the course of their lives, from abuse and neglect to academic achievement and self-sufficiency. Each Foster Youth Academy is a four-year program for high school foster youth that shows them they belong on a college campus, and helps them get there.”
These particular students knew that staff members from Give Something Back would be joining them for the day, but as yet had no idea as to the true purpose of our visit. As I observed these students and began to have informal conversations with them, I knew they were all extraordinary kids who had beat extraordinary odds to find themselves sitting in a college classroom at that very moment.
By now you might be able to guess where this story is heading, but as these 30 students gathered in a presentation room at the end of the day I can guarantee that they would have never imagined what was about to happen. Kelly Dun, our executive director began to talk about the work of our foundation, and just how much it means to all of us to provide access through education. She introduced the story of our founder Bob Carr, and talked about the impact the $250 college scholarship he received had on his life all those years ago. With the groundwork laid, then came the moment we’d all been waiting for:
“Everyone in this room is going to college, and not only that, you won’t have to pay a dime!”
After this statement, you could have heard a pin drop in the room. I quickly looked at the faces of these students and saw flashes of hope and amazement, but mostly disbelief. I knew they were thinking, “This is too good to be true. This can’t be happening. Why would these people who don’t know us at all invest in us when all of the adults who should be in our life do not?”
As seconds passed to minutes, a few brave students began to share their stories, and what the foundation’s gift meant for their future. Ninety minutes and many tears later, all of the students had spoken at least a few words about how their lives had been changed forever. Several of the adults in the room were moved to share their feelings as well, and when the opportunity presented itself I found I could not be silent. I told these students that it was my first day of work, and they alone were the reason for it being so memorable. I spoke of the many emotions I was feeling, and of my deep gratitude for all of the people in the room who had done the work to get them there so I could be a part of this moment. I desperately wanted these amazing children and young adults to understand that for all we had given them today, they had returned it back to me tenfold.
A month later, I can’t help but smile when I think back to this moment. I’m not sure that my words above have even captured half of what I felt on that warm summer afternoon. While not every day can be as magical as this one was, I know that this is the end goal that makes every information session, road trip and outreach email meaningful.
Bob Carr has said many times, “We’re not changing the world, just the lives of as many kids as we can.” It’s a simple premise, and I could not be more thrilled to repeat this mantra and do this work every single day. I am lucky indeed.
Allison Price is mentor and program manager for the Give Something Back Foundation. Her first day on the job was July 11, 2016.