Give Something Back, a non-profit organization that has provided more than $35 million in college scholarships to low-income students, has named youth advocate and entrepreneur Melissa Helmbrecht as its new Executive Director.
“Melissa is an astonishingly capable and accomplished person, and Give Something Back is very proud to have her on board,” said Robert Carr, Give Back founder and CEO. “She combines a wide-ranging philanthropic vision with an enviable ability to get things done. With her leadership, Give Back will be able to help even more deserving students to go to college and pursue career goals that would otherwise be out of their reach.”
Under the Give Back program, academically eligible students from lower-income families are mentored through high school. Students are required to complete a college prep curriculum, to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA throughout high school, and to demonstrate good character. After graduation, scholars attend one of the organization’s partner universities and colleges in Illinois, Delaware, California, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
Helmbrecht became involved with Princeton-based Give Back through her work with the Bridgeton N.J.-based South Jersey First Star Collaborative, a holistic program that aims to improve educational outcomes for young people who have grown up in foster care.
“Melissa is like a mother figure to me,” said Desiree, a ninth-grader whose three years in the First Star program have put her on a path to college despite her economic and social challenges. “She motivates me to keep going and be my best. One day I want to be as successful as she is.”
“Words can’t explain the impact Melissa has made on our city,” added Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly. “The network she has developed is a powerful force here, and the help she has given to our disadvantaged students to pursue their education is going to pay dividends over and over again.”
Helmbrecht first met Carr when he asked for her assistance in expanding Give Back’s model to prioritize enrollment for foster youth and children of incarcerated parents.
“I watched Bob Carr walk into a room filled with 30 high school students in foster care,” Helmbrecht said. “He told his story and announced a commitment to providing each student with a full scholarship to college. He cried. They cried. I watched as he changed their lives, and they changed his. From that moment, I wanted to be a part of this innovative effort to break the cycle of poverty for our nation’s most vulnerable young people.”
Carr – who built Heartland Payment Systems (HPY) from a $2 million startup in 1997 to a $4.3 billion enterprise – recently launched a new company, Beyond, which provides point-of-sale, payment processing, lending, and integrated HR tools & services for small and mid-size business owners. To sustain and expand Give Back’s impact, Carr has made the organization the beneficiary of all his personal earnings and company shares.
“Many companies pursue social responsibility initiatives and provide a small portion of their profits to support charitable causes,” Helmbrecht commented. “However, the model that Bob has pioneered, with Give Back owning 100% of his Beyond shares and receiving all of his personal earnings, takes corporate social responsibility to an unprecedented level. Every company that signs up for merchant services with Beyond is joining a movement to strengthen their communities by investing in the promise and potential of young people.”
Over the course of her career, Helmbrecht has earned a reputation as an innovative, inspirational advocate for youth service and social change. She is the founder and president of United Advocacy Group, a New Jersey nonprofit organization that incubates social ventures designed to improve outcomes for children and families. She also serves as the executive director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties, Inc., which trains volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in court.
A graduate of American University and the University of Denver College of Law, Helmbrecht studied at the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, serving as a Guardian Ad Litem for abused and neglected children in court. Helmbrecht was awarded the prestigious Silver Key Award by the American Bar Association in 2001 for her work addressing the needs of foster children. She has been honored with numerous awards, including induction into the Frederick Douglass Museum and Hall of Fame for Caring Americans, the First Star National Visionary Award, and the Walt Disney World Dreamers and Doers Award.
Carr, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and author, grew up in a financially strapped household in rural Illinois. As a high school senior, he received a $250 scholarship from a local Women’s Club that helped him to attend University of Illinois. Years later, that gift inspired Carr to establish Give Something Back to help working-class students. He is the author of Through the Fires: An American Business Story of Turbulence, Triumph and Giving Back and Working Class to College: The Promise and Peril Facing Blue-Collar America.