The inspiration for the Say Yes to Education program came when its founder, George Weiss, was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and his fraternity hosted a Christmas party for 12 inner-city children. Nineteen years old at the time, Mr. Weiss struck up a friendship with the 12-year-olds, playing basketball and pool with them and listening to stories about their lives. Moved by their courage and resilience, he stayed in touch with all of them.
When he returned to Penn seven years later for homecoming, he finally had enough money to take them out to lunch. At the restaurant, he learned that all 12 had graduated from high school. One of the young men told him, “We could not have dropped out and looked you straight in the eye.” Inspired by these words, Mr. Weiss made a promise to himself that day to contribute to making a difference in the lives of children facing overwhelming obstacles.
After building a successful career, Mr. Weiss fulfilled his promise. The Say Yes to Education program was created in 1987 when he promised 112 economically disadvantaged sixth-graders from one of Philadelphia’s highest poverty neighborhoods that if they could make it through high school, he would pay for their college education. Because he had learned over the years that covering college expenses was not enough to help students successfully complete college, he worked with the Philadelphia district to help limit the barriers that get in the way of classroom participation and ultimately improve student performance, high school graduation rates, high school college matriculation and college completion rates.
For its first two decades, Say Yes worked with cohorts of children across the country, all from low-income and other backgrounds historically underrepresented on the nation’s college and university campuses.
Say Yes Syracuse
Say Yes Syracuse was piloted in 2008 and kick-started a multi-year endowment building campaign. In January 2011, SRC, Inc. announced a $5 million commitment to the Say Yes Scholarship Endowment Fund. Contributions to the fund were matched dollar-for-dollar for a total of $10 million. Major contributors to the fund included the Central New York Community Foundation, Raymour & Flanigan, M&T Bank, O’Brien & Gere, Lockheed Martin, Say Yes to Education Foundation, American Institutes for Research, Wegman’s, Syracuse University, Syracuse Research Corporation, Ford Foundation, JP Morgan, Chase Bank, Robert Pomfrey, Winnick Family Foundation, First Niagara Bank, Bowers and Company and local real estate developer Bob Congel. Smaller donors include Citizen’s and Key Bank, Bank of America, Rent-A-Car, Hayner Hoyt Corporation, Testone, Marshall and Discenza, LLP, Gilbane Building Company and other public and private sources.
In 2016, with the help of individuals, businesses, and local and state government partners, the fundraising goal for the Say Yes Syracuse Endowment Fund was met, ensuring that the Say Yes scholarship promise will continue for generations of Syracuse City School District students.