What if a donation of $6,000 over the course of four years could change a child's destiny? If you had the means, would you help provide a private high school education for an inner-city student?
Assisting economically disadvantaged, but motivated youth obtain a high-quality education through tuition assistance and mentoring that supports them and ensures their success is the mission the Millburn-based charitable organization Student/Partner Alliance (S/PA).
Since its inception in 1993, S/PA has been able to see 1,550 students through a four-year private high school, explained Marianne Muench Busby, director of marketing for the organization. In addition to financial support from partners, S/PA receives funding from 23 corporations and foundations, which allows teens from Newark, Jersey City, Bayonne and Elizabeth to pursue a first-rate education within their communities and ultimately, go on to earn a college degree.
Westfield resident Tim Heine serves on S/PA's Board of Trustees and has been a partner almost from the very start of alliance. For Heine, one of the most rewarding aspects of becoming a partner has been the opportunity to make a personal connection with the students in the program and see the direct impact it has on their lives.
As opposed to making a donation to a charity by dropping a check in the mail, Heine said with S/PA "you really get a sense that what you're doing is making a difference."
"We're privileged to live in a town with a terrific public school system but we're spitting distance from schools where earning isn't taking place," he said. "I also really like that this is focused on New Jersey. This is happening right in our own state."
Heine noted that the graduation rate within the communities where students live is "well south of 50 percent" but for those who have the support of the alliance, 98 percent graduate from high school, with 95 percent of those students continuing their education beyond high school. Busby noted that over the past two years, that number has increased to 100 percent.
More than money
Busby said partners are asked to commit to providing a $1,500 minimum contribution each year for four years. Some partners may choose to give more while others may elect to sponsor an additional student. S/PA also does what it can to honor emergency requests that come from a school regarding a student in danger of not graduating due to inability to pay the tuition.
"For a modest investment and a small time commitment, you can feel 1000 percent sure you're making a difference," Heine said.
S/PA creates easy and safe opportunities to foster relationships between partners and students, Heine and Busby explained. Four annual events are hosted—student/partner breakfasts at individual schools, a day of service at the Community Foodbank of New Jersey, a holiday party and talent show, and a day of service at Greater Newark Conservancy— to provide chances for students, partners and their families to get to know one another if they choose to do so.
While the financial component is fixed, the time commitment is flexible, Heine said. The organization recognizes that some partners have more time than others and S/PA would never want time constraints to be an obstacle to someone thinking of getting involved, he noted. Some partners might never meet the student they sponsor and while that's not ideal, S/PA has developed a program involving "junior partners" – students who have recently graduated who return to mentor the younger students. Though they are not contributing financially, they are able to provide support, encouragement and the wisdom of having recently been through the program. At that point the circle is complete, Busby said.
"We like to provide the students with as much support as we can," she added. "We think of ourselves as the cheerleaders in their corner."
Feedback from students:
Busby explained that students must first apply to the private schools and gain acceptance before they can seek the assistance of S/PA. Once offered admittance, a student is then interviewed by the alliance to ascertain if he or she is a good candidate for the program and someone who is motivated to complete their high school degree.
Busby said the teens are truly grateful for the help they've received and many recognize their education would not have been possible were it not for S/PA. She shared several students' notes of appreciation below:
"The Student/ Partner Alliance provides students with hope- that their dreams of a decent education and college are attainable- as well as motivation- knowing that others believe in them and count on them to make something of themselves and to give back...All of my achievements were made possible, in part, by SPA and my sponsors’ support, which paved the way for me and so many others like me. I couldn’t be more proud to be an alumna of this outstanding organization!”
“A sincere thank you for sponsoring me and giving me the opportunity to pursue an education and be successful in life. Thank you providing me with your generosity, wisdom and mentoring. You don’t understand how much this means to me and to my family. It takes a big burden off my mom who works very hard to keep me in this great school. You are truly appreciated!” -Senior
"Thank you for choosing me as one of the lucky children to receive this special scholarship. This will help me have a great future, which begins with a good education. I also want to make a difference in the world with a career in the FBI. I will strive to do my best because not everyone gets to receive this amazing chance." -Freshman
"...Your willingness to help me has driven me to reach higher, thank you for continuing to support me." -Sophomore
Schools that S/PA is associated with:
- St. Anthony High School, Jersey City
- St. Benedict's Prep School, Newark
- Christ the King Prep School, Newark
- Hudson Catholic Regional H.S., Jersey City
- Immaculate Conception H.S., Montclair
- Marist High School, Bayonne, NJ
- Marylawn of the Oranges, So. Orange (soon to close)* - to be replaced by Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth
- St. Vincent Academy, Newark
S/PA Quick Facts:
- S/PA directs 100% of partner contributions toward student scholarship support
- S/PA has provided over 1550 scholarships since its inception in 1993
- Greater than 98% of S/PA scholarship recipients graduated from the high school where they were awarded their scholarship.
- 98% of S/PA students who graduate then go on to enroll in college
- 90% of S/PA students come from homes with family incomes ranging from $16,000 to $35,000 annually
- 80% of S/PA students come from single-parent homes
- 70% of S/PA students are African American, 25% are Hispanic, 5% are Asian
- 160 students receive S/PA scholarships for the 2012/2013 school year
- S/PA is affiliated with 8 private schools in Essex, Hudson and Union Counties
For more information, view S/PA's website: http://studentpartneralliance.org/ or call 973-379-5878. Tim Heine is open to answering questions from prospective partners.
To become a partner, please complete the Partner Commitment Forms and return to Student/Partner Alliance, P.O. Box 566, Millburn, NJ 07041. Click here for the Partner Commitment Forms