I received news that the Southern New Jersey Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals named the Give Something Back Foundation Outstanding Foundation, and we’ll receive this award during the organization’s National Philanthropy Day® Celebration. Dr. Ali Houshmand, president of our partner college Rowan University, nominated us.

The idea to start a foundation that would help send low-income students to college came to me during a trip to Monaco with my wife at the time. We were staying in a resort on the Mediterranean and on a lark decided to look at yachts that were up for sale.

Some of these spectacular ships were priced at $30 million or more, and while year-around upkeep is a necessary additional cost, what struck me most was the tab for floral arrangements: $2,000 a week!

At that moment it dawned on me the money earmarked for the flowers alone could put some kids through college for four years.

After nixing the yacht idea (we didn’t need one anyway), I established the Give Something Back Foundation to help send economically disadvantaged kids through college, debt free.

The success of Heartland Payment Systems provided me with the means to use my fortune in a thoughtful way. I’ve said it before; I’m not one to write a big check to any nonprofit that knocks on my door. Instead of throwing money at a problem, I found that the best solution to making sure these underrepresented kids get to college — and stay in college — was to set them up for success starting in high school. That’s why we offer mentors to support them and programs to enrich them. And when they’re ready to go to college, we provide the tuition, room and board at one of our partner universities for four years.

Ninety-five percent of our kids who start college graduate in four or four-and-a-half years.

In our society, we frequently underestimate young people from modest and struggling backgrounds. I can tell you now; most of these kids possess strength of character, not to mention brainpower. Those who have already graduated through our program have gone on to work as business executives, teachers, lawyers, physicians and IT stars. And many of them are now “giving back” themselves.

I write in my book Through the Fires that my foundation has been some of the most rewarding work of my life. Philanthropy changes you, and it helps change society.

Thank you to the Association of Fundraising Professionals for recognizing our foundation, and to Dr. Houshmand for nominating us.