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KeyBank delivers generous gift to Say Yes: Students not wasting opportunity

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

KeyBank delivered a one million dollar gift to the Say Yes Buffalo Scholarship program. A pep rally was held Wednesday with Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts students to celebrate.  The free college tuition program for Buffalo Public and city charter school students is receiving praise from the national Say Yes program. WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley says students are pledging not to waste the opportunity to succeed. 

About 150-seniors at Performing Arts joined the Say Yes rally as they prepare to gradate next month.  Student Christopher Gandy delivered a moving speech. He said he has beat the odds as a black male.

BAVPA senior Christopher Gandy delivered a moving speech saying he has beat the odds as a black male.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

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“On face value who would consider my life worthless based on the color of my skin, gender, zip code and the fact that I’m being raised in a single-parent household. Many would not expect my future to be bright,” said Gandy.   

Gandy admitted, in grade school, he was not a good student, was a ‘class clown’ and didn't care about his classwork, but it was his mother who enlighten him to change his student performance and it worked.

“With tears in her eyes, my mother told me, Chris, you are smart and capable, but if you don’t turn things around I will remove you from this school. The impact of her words and concern for me changed my life forever. From freshman year until now, I have received both Merit Roll and Honor Roll accommodation,” remarked Gandy as students cheered him.

BAVPA students cheering at a pep rally for Say Yes Buffalo.

Gandy plans to attend Houghton College this fall. His story is exactly the formula that is Say Yes is working to achieve for city students.  Say Yes Buffalo Board Chair Alfonso O'Neil-White recalls the time in 2012 when many doubted the program could succeed. 

“There were a lot of people who thought we were a little crazy offer scholarships to all of Buffalo Public School students and when we made that announcement and I saw the reaction from the students, it was clear to me that we actually knew what we were doing and we were on the right track,” explained O’Neil-White.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Say Yes Buffalo Board Chair Alfonso O'Neil-White.

“We’ve awarded over $4-million in scholarships to Buffalo students,” stated Clotilde Dedecker, President of Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, one of the Say Yes Buffalo partners.

With community and government partners, Say Yes is growing and adding support programs and services for students and families well before they apply for college.  It's also moving the graduation meter, sending low-income, and under privileged students in the city to college.    

Dedecker noted higher Buffalo graduation rates in the last three years.

“We, together, 180-partners under David Rust’s leadership, have taken the graduation rate form 49% to 61% and climbing,” stated Dedecker.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey is President of Say Yes to Education. She appeared in Buffalo Wednesday.

The success the program is being watched closely by the national organization.  Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey is President of Say Yes to Education. She appeared in Buffalo Wednesday praising the progress of the program.

Schmitt-Carey said Say Yes Buffalo has avoided four impediments that could create ‘potholes’. One is not relying on Say Yes as a 'silver bullet' for student success.“

We all know that’s just not the way it is. Early childhood is critical, but then what happens K-12 – the supports and higher ed, all of these things along the developmental pathway is absolutely critical and we have to move away from this fixation on silver bullets,” Schmitt-Carey told the crowd. 

The Buffalo program has also formed solid collaborations between community organizations and government, avoiding silos.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. The city is one of many Say Yes Buffalo partners.

“They come to the table, literally every two weeks they work together. They focus on the benchmarks that they want to achieve, how they want to support kids and they really coordinate the dollars,” said Schmitt-Carey.

Schmitt-Carey pointed out Say Yes Buffalo does not follow a so-called 'superman syndrome' where one person will make a change and she said program leaders and partners have also achieved sustainability.

“So that when short term grant ends the school system, the city, the county, they have a plan to maintain those programs,” noted Schmitt-Carey.

“We can’t help what we are born into, but we can always help who we become in the future,” said Performing Arts senior Annisa Glover-Briggs.

Performing Arts senior Annisa Glover-Briggs received a Say Yes Buffalo scholarship.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

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Glover-Briggs is originally from Brooklyn and comes from a struggling family, but now Glover-Briggs and her twin sister will both graduate next month and head to college in the fall on Say Yes scholarships. She will attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and her sister Amber heads to Alfred State...

“Would you have been able to do this if you were still living in New York City?” asked Buckley. “Oh heck no. Not by a long shot,” responded Glover-Briggs. “I live in a single family, single parent household. I live with my mother and my twin sister. Twins coming out at the same time. Twins leaving at the same time. A lot of money goes into that and we’ve always had our own little financial struggles.

Glover-Briggs said the Say Yes scholarship gives herself and mother ‘security’.       

Glover-Briggs tells us she truly believes Say Yes Buffalo has been a key incentive to her classmates to graduate. She referred to it as a 'little float' to support their education. 

KeyBank's Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy and Civic Engagement Margot Copeland delivered the $1-million donation Wednesday. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
KeyBank delivers $1-million to Say Yes Buffalo.

"Say Yes revitalizes communities by supporting colleges’ access for ever public high school student that graduates from Buffalo.

KeyBank's $1-million investment brings total funding to Say Yes to over $25-million since established in 2012.  KeyBank previously provided $150,000 to the program.

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