As a reader and contributor to iBi, I very much appreciate the interesting and useful monthly focus of the magazine. This month, the focus is on not-for-profits, and June couldn’t be a better time to explore those rich, diverse organizations that are so critical to our livability, humanity and success as a community.
Like many readers, I personally support several NFPs, but the two closest to my heart are St. Jude and Peoria Promise. Blessed with legions of supporters throughout the country, St. Jude has an enviable longterm track record. Meanwhile, Peoria Promise is a relative newcomer, still in the “building” phase in terms of attracting large numbers of donors and establishing its own track record. For these reasons, I’d like to share some thoughts on this “promising” organization.
The privilege of serving as mayor offers the opportunity to help provide our population with the best possible local public services (fire and police protection, infrastructure maintenance, etc.), but it also gives me the opportunity to be acutely aware of what we require in order to grow, prosper and provide a satisfying quality of life. One core ingredient is an educated and skilled workforce that can drive economic development. We simply must increase the number of City of Peoria high school graduates who complete post-secondary education and thereby deliver a more skilled workforce.
And that’s what Peoria Promise is all about. It is an economic development initiative based on continuing education after high school—through modest scholarship support—so that as a community, we will have the skilled workforce essential to our economic competitiveness with other urban communities. And we must be competitive if we are to attract new investment and jobs, as well as encouraging existing businesses to expand their presence.
Peoria Promise functions in partnership with Illinois Central College and Peoria’s public high schools, and the “Promise” is multi-faceted. It promises serious-minded high school students an opportunity to enroll at a first-class community college to gain the skills necessary for productive lives. It promises employers a locally-based and educated workforce. It promises the community economic strength and vitality. It promises donors that every contribution—100 percent of their dollar—stays in the community.
Peoria Promise is building robust momentum. At the end of this spring semester, the organization will have enabled over 1,000 students to attend Illinois Central College. The momentum is impressive, but Peoria Promise needs approximately $1 million per year to continue the development efforts through education. The goal of its governing foundation, which I have the privilege of chairing, is to create an endowment to ensure stability and sustainability in future years. The board is also exploring additional fundraising opportunities to expand eligibility beyond District 150 into our outstanding private schools.
When I have an opportunity to speak about Peoria Promise, I occasionally encounter two misconceptions. The first is from those who believe we should not provide scholarships unless there is a demonstrated financial need. Our counter to this is that ICC statistics show that when students begin their college careers here, more than 70 percent stay here to work—or return here after completing additional studies. The second misconception is a feeling that Peoria Promise is too lenient in terms of supporting young adults who may not succeed, and in doing so, lowers the standards at ICC. In fact, all Peoria Promise students have to meet ICC’s admission requirements and afterwards, must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA to keep our scholarship. We think the kids are worth the investment.
I mentioned that June was a perfect time for iBi to focus on NFPs. From a Peoria Promise perspective, it’s very appropriate, as this month marks the kickoff to “Promise Mentors,” a pilot program for 35 high school graduates to develop a relationship with a trained, collegeeducated mentor. We will also initiate a new marketing campaign, “Can You Imagine?” Various forms of public communications, such as billboards and banners, will proclaim: “Can you imagine a city that sends its kids to college? That city is Peoria!” I’d like to close by appealing to your self-interest. An investment in the Peoria Promise Foundation will contribute to your bottom line in years to come. I also want to thank the board members who freely give of their time, talent and resources to make this organization “work” for you. Peoria Promise is a promise made, and a promise being kept. I hope you’ll join us.iBi