Hartford money manager George Weiss founded Say Yes to Education in 1987, but Mr. Weiss was inspired to help inner-city youth long before then.
When Mr. Weiss was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, 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 hardscrabble 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 promised then and there to help make a difference in the lives of children facing overwhelming obstacles.
While building a successful career, Mr. Weiss returned to his alma mater and renewed his ties to inner city students. In 1987, he made a promise to 112 sixth graders at the Belmont School—located in one of Philadelphia's toughest neighborhoods—that he would pay for their college educations if they made it through high school. The first Say Yes to Education chapter was founded.
Over the next two decades, Say Yes developed chapters in other communities, with programs starting earlier than sixth grade to provide academic, social/emotional, and health and wellness supports to enhance students’ chances for success.
Each new chapter provided evidence that the Say Yes supports were producing positive results. Test scores were improving, as were graduation rates and college enrollment. Bolstered by this success, Say Yes to Education’s leaders decided that it was time to scale the program up to an entire school district. In 2008, Syracuse was chosen as the first community to apply this bold strategy and bring change to all 32 schools in the district.
With Syracuse University’s Nancy Cantor as a champion, Say Yes was able to create an unprecedented collaborative partnership and vision shared by the school district, county, city, school board, teachers and community-based organizations. Together the partners designed a programmatic and financial blueprint that could be sustained within the city, county and school district operating budgets by 2014.
In December 2011, Say Yes announced its plans to create yet another city-wide chapter – Say Yes Buffalo. Beginning in the fall of 2012, Say Yes will implement its programs and provide services to students and families throughout Buffalo Public Schools.