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College Promise scholar Felipe Perez (left) poses with his mentor, Michael Sawyer, in 2017.
When Montgomery County Ohio College Promise launched in 2010 as a component fund of The Dayton Foundation, the goal was to help 500 poverty-impacted students achieve their college degrees through mentoring and financial support. Twelve years later, the program has touched the lives of more than 600 Montgomery County youth and their families, and put them on the road to success through higher education.
“MCOCP got off the ground thanks to the tireless efforts of John Taylor, Ned Sifferlen and Gary Smiga, who was the Program’s original executive director. The idea was to select from a pool of high-achieving, eighth-grade students, many of whom couldn’t afford to attain higher education without financial aid and/or scholarships, and pair them with a volunteer mentor who would offer guidance and support throughout high school,” said Patrick Gill, executive director of MCOCP since 2017. “This mentoring relationship, along with scholarship assistance, has set these students up for success in completing their college degrees.”
The first cohort of College Promise students graduated from high school in 2016. Since then, 55 bachelor’s degrees, 46 associate degrees and 28 certificates have been earned, with 77 percent of MCOCP scholars earning post-secondary credentials or still persisting at little to no cost to them or their families. Even more impressive is the success rate of College Promise students who have earned these credentials, which is 19 percent higher than all Montgomery County students and 37 percent higher than Montgomery County students who are of the same low-socioeconomic status. These success rates, coupled with unwavering community support, have prompted MCOCP to expand the program beyond the first 500 students.
[College Promise] changed my life. I can’t imagine where I would be today without it!
– Alejandro Perez, scholarship recipient
“MCOCP has had tremendous success and aligns with community efforts that support college completion. College Promise scholars have higher enrollment, persistence and graduation rates than students countywide, regardless of income status,” Patrick said. “We are excited to announce that, through the Extend the Promise Campaign, the program will continue through 20 cohorts of 50 students each, thus impacting the lives of a total of 1,000 Montgomery County students.”
The Dayton Foundation, which provides MCOCP with office space and backroom support, awarded $375,000 in grants from its charitable funds toward the campaign. MCOCP currently has reached 90 percent of the $2.75 million it’s looking to raise and hopes to reach this goal with the help of a $100,000 challenge grant from funds of The Dayton Foundation.
Among the many success stories of the program is that of Alejandro Perez and his younger brother, Felipe. When Alejandro’s mentor, Marc Sawyer, passed away unexpectedly in 2016, Marc’s brother, Michael, stepped in to help.
“I thought that I ‘stepped up’ after my brother died to become Alejandro’s mentor, but really I was the one who received the greatest blessing. I didn’t know how to grieve the loss of my brother, but the best therapy I could have ever received came in the form of these two young men,” said Michael Sawyer, who also mentored Felipe, now a freshman at Wright State University. “Each new generation represents the best opportunity we have to improve the overall condition of society and to leave a legacy for generations to come. College Promise provides that opportunity for each of us to take part in the lives of our next generation.”
Alejandro graduated from Wright State University in 2021 and currently is teaching fourth grade at DECA Prep in Dayton, where he wants to “be a role model not just to my students, but to everyone around me.” He credits MCOCP for helping him to achieve his dreams.
“I grew up in a family where education was always a top priority, but I didn’t know if college was a possibility,” Alejandro said. “Because of College Promise, I was able to pursue my dream career of being a teacher without worrying about the tuition. It’s changed my life. I can’t imagine where I would be today without it!”