Creating Bridges to Education

Reflections from Philanthropy Week
By Karen Leder, Advisory Board Member for The Community Foundation in Montgomery County

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

-Nelson Mandela

During the first-ever Philanthropy Week of The Community Foundation, I hosted a “Taste of Philanthropy” breakfast (a series of in-home conversations where passionate people explore how to make an impact on the causes dear to their hearts, much like a book club). These conversations provide a space to share ideas and learn from both strangers and friends about how to create more opportunities for talented young people to pursue their dreams and achieve their fullest potential, mostly through education.

We kicked off the breakfast discussion by hearing from a recent college graduate whose life was transformed after she received a full scholarship to the Universities at Shady Grove. After taking six years to earn her Associate’s Degree while working full-time, this scholarship coupled with the support of a mentor (a local business community leader) provided guidance, support, and connections which led to her to true success and her first job at a local nonprofit.

This one story illustrates the night-and-day difference that scholarships and mentoring can make, especially for students who are the first in their families to pursue a college degree. Inspired by her example, guests then shared their own ideas for how we can invest time, talent, and treasure to create pathways to success for more talented young people in our community.

If you want to invest in someone’s education but don’t know where to start, here are a few options to consider:

Give a Scholarship. The easiest way to create a scholarship is by working with staff at local schools who have intimate knowledge of the students’ talents and interests, as well as the financial-barriers they face. You can also work through an intermediary, like The Community Foundation, to create a scholarship for students going to different schools.

To get going, here are just a few questions to mull over:

  • Do you want to make a contribution every year or one large lump sum gift that will make scholarships in perpetuity?
  • Do you have a vision for a particular population that your scholarship will support?
  • What criteria are important when selecting the recipients of the scholarship? E.g. financial need, leadership, volunteerism, etc.
  • Do you want to help students who are majoring in a specific area or working toward a particular career field?

Give to an organization that helps students overcome barriers.  There are many great organizations that provide scholarships plus wrap-around assistance which helps students get into college, persist, graduate, and then move on to meaningful careers.  Here are a few that you should check out:

  • Achieving College Excellence and Success (ACES) provides academic coaches from Montgomery College (MC) to high school students in 10 Montgomery County Public High Schools (MCPS). When ACES students graduate from MCPS and come to MC, they also benefit from an academic coach to assist them while at MC and help in the transition to the Universities at Shady Grove.
  • CollegeTracks works with low-income, first-generation-to-college students.  Its team of staff and volunteers advise and support students through each milestone required to get admitted to college, while also finding enough financial aid to attend, enroll, persist and graduate.
  • Generation Hope provides direct scholarships and one-on-one mentoring to teen parents who are attending college in the Washington, DC region.
  • Posse Foundation partners colleges and universities award four-year, full-tuition scholarships to students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential. Posse also places students in supportive multicultural teams (called Posses) that provide peer-to-peer support throughout their college careers.
  • And finally one organization in DC that is near and dear to my heart: Urban Alliance provides a year-long meaningful paid professional internships to DC Public High School students from under-resourced areas. This program boasts a 100% high school graduation rate of which 79% of the alumni enrolled in college and 90% who enroll in college persisted to their second year.

For more information and additional ideas on how to get started, contact Anna Hargrave at or 301-495-3036 x 161.