Each year, the Women’s Business Connection of Chester County selects a community partner to be a beneficiary of its fundraising and networking efforts. The WBC’s current partner is Chester County Futures, a nonprofit that provides comprehensive academic support, mentoring, and scholarships for motivated, economically disadvantaged youth, enabling them to succeed in school and life.
“Chester County Futures is considered a college access program,” said Maria McDonald, CCF’s Executive Director. “What we do in a nutshell is work alongside the students to put them on a path that will assure they reach their goal, which is higher education.”
The nonprofit equips and empowers students specifically from Oxford, Kennett, Phoenixville, and Coatesville high schools whose families meet certain income and eligibility requirements. All CCF students are considered low-income by national standards and therefore face the challenges that accompany poverty.
“Many of our students come from homes where the adults in the house are overwhelmed by meeting essentials such as food, clothing, and shelter,” said McDonald. “Our young people pack the worries from the home into their school bags every day. Relatives could be dealing with illness, addiction, or incarceration, any of which will derail learning. Our staff and volunteers encourage them to remain focused on their goals.”
CCF’s vision is to provide these students access to the support needed to become a self-reliant, productive member of society. One way of accomplishing this is through CCF’s Passport to College Program.
“It is an intensive program,” said McDonald. “We meet with them once a week for an hour and a half during the school year. We provide academic enrichment and tutoring and teach financial literacy and 21st-century skill building. We also take students on corporate site visits and have volunteers come into classrooms to talk about their professions and educational background.”
Students in the higher grades are also taken on college tours, and those without access to advanced technology are given new or refurbished laptops.
In the one-to-one mentoring program, which is particularly valuable for at-risk youth, students receive additional guidance from caring adult volunteers who have similar interests.
“By the time they are in their senior year of high school, they are ready,” said McDonald. “They know how to apply for scholarships and what it’s going to take to not just get accepted into the college of their choice, but how to pay for it.”
As a supplement to any other financial aid, CCF provides each college student with a $1,000-per-year scholarship, provided they keep their grades up.
Also, Steps 4 Success, a college transition program, helps students in those critical, first 18 months of college when their progress is most likely to suffer due to time management skills, academic challenges, or financial pressures.
“This program works to help them identify what they are struggling with and find the resources on their campuses,” said McDonald. “These kids want this, and they’re willing to work for it. We want them to be independent, but we try to fill in the gaps and keep them on track.”
The strategy to “keep them on track” throughout their high school and college careers has proven successful, as 100 percent of CCF students have received high school diplomas on time for 23 consecutive years. Furthermore, 54 percent of these economically disadvantaged students have graduated from college. That’s almost five times the national average of 11 percent.
Recognizing the continued commitment of CCF to these students since 1996 was the reason CCF was chosen by the Women’s Business Connection as its Community Partner for 2020.
“What Chester County Futures offers to the youth in our communities is critical,” said the WBC’s Dee Hurford of Dee Hurford Designs. “It’s our honor to support them.”
In addition to targeting its fundraising efforts to its annual Community Partner, the WBC creates networking opportunities and other ways to add value to an organization.
“Our Community Partner program is a strong part of our mission,” said WBC President Diana Mattingly of First Resource Bank. “Being able to provide not only visibility but also donation opportunities is even more important at this time when hands-on support is limited due to the novel coronavirus restrictions. We’re delighted to support the good work of Chester County Futures.”
According to McDonald, the opportunity to raise the profile of CCF is just as important as any financial support.
“The fact that we are being introduced to more and more people will help broaden our donor base and provide more volunteers, which is extremely valuable,” she said. “We’re just thrilled with the partnership.”
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