When my neighbors and I first gathered in 1990 to discuss helping local students access higher education, we knew there would be many people who shared our passion. With the help of more and more friends and community members each year, we have been able to inspire and prepare nearly 1,000 students to achieve their dreams. Today, we serve more than 360 student participants annually.
Over the last 30 years, I have seen our program grow from one partner high school, to 13 partner high schools reaching across five counties in Southeast Michigan. During that time, our organization has transformed from a grassroots effort to help students realize their potential, to a college access, success and scholarship program. I feel proud to look back at our humble beginning, knowing how much we’ve accomplished together.
This school year, we were forced to transform again, and fast. When schools everywhere began to close their doors to protect students from COVID-19, we knew we needed to adapt to continue to serve students. In just a short time, we were able to provide access to virtual resources, increase one-on-one assistance and advising, and work more closely with partner high school to make sure students had the support they needed to succeed.
It is important that our students feel supported during times of change. We are dedicated to providing students with the resources and programming they need to succeed and remain on the path to higher education whether they are studying from home or from their classrooms. I know we will continue to grow and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of education and college access, and I’m looking forward to another 30 years of success.
Provost Scholarship Winner and Lt. Governor Gilchrist Address Guests at Celebration of Students in Campus Martius Park
On Tuesday, September 15th, Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars (DRDFS) supporters from all over Southeast Michigan gathered in Detroit’s Campus Martius Park for the Celebration of Students. This event highlighted the 30 year milestone of helping local students prepare for life after high school.
In a typical year, DRDFS hosts an annual luncheon with more than 600 supporters and the entire senior class of students. The graduating class is able to network and learn from business and community leaders while being recognized for their three years of success in the Next Level Scholars (NLS) program. This year, due to COVID-19, the event was reinvented with the safety of guests in mind.
The Celebration of Students, Emceed by Paul W. Smith, took place outdoors with an exclusive group of supporters. While opening the program, Board President, William C. Young, recalled the formation of DRDFS by telling guests “30 Years ago, in 1990, a small but determined group decided to help students in Ypsilanti succeed in life after high school. As time went on, more and more students became interested and excited about pursuing a post-secondary education. After experiencing our program changing so many lives at just one high school, we knew we could make an even greater impact on more students throughout Southeast Michigan.” DRDFS evolved a great deal throughout the years, and now serves more than 350 students. Young thanked guests for their support and spoke optimistically about the future of the organization, concluding his speech by announcing to all attendees that DRDFS is “preparing for future growth with your help.”
During the program, guests enjoyed an incredible performance by America’s Got Talent finalists, the Detroit Youth Choir. In addition, Next Level Scholars Program Alumni and winner of the 2020 Provost Scholarship for Business, Huriel Gonzalez-Hernandez, shared his personal impact story. During his speech, Gonzalez-Hernandez spoke about the three years he dedicated to the program, and shared his new perspective as an Alumni, stating “Being a part of NLS has greatly motivated me to pursue my goals. The one-on-one assistance, resources, and encouragement to pursue college and successfully graduate with a degree has been inspiring and life changing. With the opportunities that DRDFS has provided, I am proud to say that I am currently taking classes as a first generation college student at Eastern Michigan University.”
Lieutenant Governor of Michigan, Garlin Gilchrist III, addressed Celebration of Students guests via video message, in which he said “I wanted to send a special message on the 30th anniversary of the Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars program; Thank you for the service to the community, the resources you provide, and the examples that you set for our scholars across the region to be successful and to know that college attainment is real and possible. I know how important programs like this are and how much of a difference they can make in people’s lives.”
To conclude the program, Executive Director, Christa Funk, emphasized the impact that DRDFS is making throughout the region despite current challenges of COVID-19. “We have adapted our program to best accommodate our students while they navigate a new learning environment. From enhanced 1:1 advising with a college coach, to 24/7 on-demand tutoring services, and programming to keep our students on the pathway to higher education, we are proud that even during these uncertain times, our students can be sure that DRDFS will be with them every step of the way.” She went on to illustrate DRDFS alumni success data compared with the State of Michigan averages. “Our DRDFS alumni are outpacing their peers state-wide in the areas of post-secondary enrollment, persistence, and graduation.”
To learn more about the metrics above, see a performance by the Detroit Youth Choir, and hear from our speakers, Huriel Gonzalez-Hernandez and Lt. Governor Gilchrist, click here to watch the Celebration of Students video recap.
DRDFS Provides More Than $3,600 in Emergency Aid to Program Alumni Affected by CODID-19
This past March, college campuses across the nation began to close down in order to protect the health of their students. In doing this, college students were faced with evacuating their dorms, leaving their on-campus jobs, and losing access to campus dining.
In response, Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars acted fast to establish an Alumni Emergency Fund to assist DRDFS alumni who are currently enrolled in post-secondary education with food support, housing support, transportation home, and online learning support. An application was sent to alumni the same day the fund was established, and numerous requests for assistance were received.
DRDFS staff members were able to respond in real time to these requests for assistance. The first student to submit a request received a response and solution in less than 15 minutes. Fatou, a student at Howard University responded to the survey with worries that she couldn’t find transportation home, and needed a storage unit for some of her belongings she had to leave behind. Numerous other students responded that they could no longer use computer labs, and had no other computer access to complete online coursework.
Souad, who is currently attending Henry Ford College said, “Thanks to the emergency support I am now able to get back to my classes without falling behind and continue online. The laptop from DRDFS has helped me continue my semester without worrying and I’m so grateful.” Souad is just one of about 30 students who received support.
Thanks to the Jamie and Denise Jacob Family Foundation and generous personal gifts from members of our Board of Directors, DRDFS has been able to provide students with laptops, a Wi-Fi hot-spot, gift cards to get groceries, and more. In all, 29 requests have been approved and fulfilled, totaling more than $3,600 in aid.
Many students replied with thank you messages, like this student who said, “Thank you so much!! I didn’t know how I was going to get my work done. I’ve been overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do over the past few days and was so relieved when I got the email from DRDFS.”
We are thankful to be able to offer additional support to our alumni in emergency situations like this. The Alumni Emergency Fund is just another way that DRDFS is helping students succeed in higher education.
111 Members of the Class of 2020 Transitioned from into the Next Level Scholars Alumni Network
At the end of each school year, DRDFS hosts a high-energy college decision celebration for our graduating seniors, their friends, and their family members, called Suited for Success. At Suited for Success, each student walks across the stage and very enthusiastically announces where they will be heading to post-secondary education in the fall. This event is unique because it showcases how proud and accomplished our students feel at the end of the three-year program. Throughout Suited for Success, students can be found clapping and cheering for their classmates for making life-changing college decisions.
For the Class of 2020, however, graduation season turned out to be a very different experience. We couldn’t gather in person this year, but we were still able to celebrate college decisions with our seniors in a meaningful way. With help from the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), we were able to assemble individually tailored Suited for Success kits, and mail one to each of their homes. When seniors received their boxes, they found a t-shirt from their selected school, a guide to surviving and thriving in post-secondary education, a gift card for a family pizza night, and more!
While Suited for Success is a special time for our students, it also is an event that many of our supporters and students’ families enjoy attending as well. To involve everyone in the event, we asked supporters and families to submit well-wishes and notes of congratulations for our students. Below are just a few of the many responses we received in support of the Class of 2020.
“All of us out here supporting you could not be more proud of each and every one of you. We wish nothing but the best for you in furthering your education. Continue to make us proud!” – DRDFS Supporter, Frank P.
“I’m so proud of Class of 2020 for the hard work and success. I wish them good luck to more success as they move forward to their future.” – Next Level Scholar Parent, Mario O.
“Congratulations on achieving a major milestone! Great results come from hard work. Wishing you all the best.” – DRDFS Supporter, Lydia M.
On behalf of the entire DRDFS community, congratulations Class of 2020! We’re looking forward to working with these dedicated students as they transition into our Alumni program, and ultimately earn their post-secondary degrees.
Mason students of the Class of 2020 pose together during the DRDFS Etiquette and Networking Workshop.
Partner School Spotlight on Mason Senior High School in Erie, MI
In 2015 Detroit Regional Dollars for Scholars (DRDFS) welcomed a new high school partner. Mason Senior High School (MSHS), with a current enrollment of approximately 360 students, is located in Erie, Michigan, near our state’s southern border. Because of its unique proximity, MSHS serves students from surrounding communities of Erie, Luna Pier, LaSalle, and even a few in Northern Ohio.
Principal of MSHS, Brandon Bates, has deep ties to the school and community, having attended elementary, middle, and high school on the same campus of Mason Consolidated Schools. After earning both Bachelors and Masters degrees at the nearby University of Toledo, he returned to teach at Mason Consolidated Schools, and is now serving in his 7th year as MSHS Principal.
Principal Bates spoke about the impact the DRDFS partnership has had on their participating students, observing that after being involved in DRDFS, students are motivated to work hard and remain focused. Students have a clear understanding of the importance of good grades and SAT scores in pursuing their post-secondary dreams.
Next Level Scholars Program Adviser, Steve Bowers
Steve Bowers, the Next Level Scholars Program Adviser at MSHS, added that he shares information about the DRDFS program to all sophomore students, which helps to generate excitement, and contributes to the college-going culture within the school.
MSHS is committed to setting students up for success in life after high school in other ways beyond their partnership with DRDFS. MSHS partners with Monroe Community College and Lourdes University to offer its Direct College program to high school students. Beginning as early as Freshman year, students are able to attend college courses, taught by visiting college professors at MSHS. During the Direct College program, students can earn up to 24 college credits in a wide variety of courses at no cost to them.
DRDFS is proud to partner with MSHS in our shared goal to help students succeed in life after high school. We look forward to supporting these students in achieving their post-secondary dreams for years to come.