Imagine a world, or on a smaller scale, a county, whose residents, foundations, small businesses, and leading industries support their youth’s future SO MUCH that they are willing to invest in a program that pays the last dollar of their college education. Where students’ dreams of going to college, without an insurmountable amount of student loan debt, can come true and become a reality. Well, in Greenwood County, our students’ dreams are coming true. The idea was born out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, a community very similar to Greenwood, South Carolina, when an anonymous group of donors decided to save their community through philanthropy that is directed towards the root cause of community failure-education. It was developed based on the need for a workforce and to encourage high school graduates to go to college and then return to their hometown to live, work, and raise families. A group of individuals from Greenwood learned of this program and decided that this is something that Greenwood County needed, could be done, and so from that, The Greenwood Promise was founded.
Greenwood County is nestled in ideal location; an hour and a half from the mountains and three hours from the beach. Not only that, but Greenwood is home to beautiful Lake Greenwood, Piedmont Technical College, Lander University, and has an Uptown that attracts many each year to the SC Festival of Flowers and the Festival of Discovery. Most importantly, it houses many manufacturing industries and Self Regional Healthcare, our hospital system that rivals some of the best in our state. The need for a homegrown workforce became evident as our industries, businesses, and healthcare struggled to find employees. With our post-secondary education institutions right here in Greenwood, what better place to find those employees?
Here we are, 10 years later, with 3.5 cohorts of high school graduates being funded through The Greenwood Promise and the results have been phenomenal! Sure, we have funded almost 400 students, but the magic has been in the student “birddogging” that has occurred. Some of our students have not even received a penny from The Promise, but the secret sauce is in their knowledge that they can go to college, and no matter what, will not have to worry about the financial piece. They also receive counseling and mentoring from me, the Executive Director of The Promise and a former teacher. I know of so many students that have come through our schools before our program whose lives may have gone in a more positive direction, so this drives my passion and desire to helping students whether money is a barrier for them. We also recognize that we cannot wait to start with our students in their Senior year to get them prepared for college, so we start with Kindergarten Medallion Ceremonies. The kindergarten students receive a medallion with their high school graduation year on it and we make a promise to them that they can go to college when they graduate!
As we move towards our second Phase, we are excited to announce a position that will work with our students at Piedmont Technical College, place students in apprenticeships and internships, and then connect them with our investors for a job post-graduation. Once our funding is secured for Phase 2, we will then be able to fund our students at a public university or college in South Carolina.
In today’s world of uncertainty, one thing is a constant for our students and that is “You can go to College…We Promise!”