Provo Promise aims to help every Provo kid go to college

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Campus photos of Classroom Building and Library in front of Mount Timpanogos from a boom truck, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Photo by Nathaniel Ray Edwards, UVU Marketing)

The Provo Promise is a nonprofit organization that wants to raise money to help every Provo high school student to UVU or Mountainland Applied Technology College. (Photo by Nathaniel Ray Edwards, UVU Marketing)

A child of immigrants who’s worked hard in school but her family can’t afford to pay for college. A girl whose single mother struggles with MS. A child whose mother was deported when he was 5. A boy who needs a mentor and financial help to get him where he wants to be. These are all high school students in Provo who will benefit from The Provo Promise, a new nonprofit that seeks to pay for a college or vocational education for every child who graduates from a Provo high school.

“We want these children to know that no matter what their address is or where they came from, they can go to college,” said Keira Scholz, director of The Provo Promise.

The foundation’s goal is to provide funding for every Provo high school graduate to attend Utah Valley University or Mountainland Applied Technology College, up to a four-year degree. It also will provide guidance to help students prepare for college, assistance in applying to colleges and counselors to help students during college.

Scholz said it will provide what’s known as a mid-money scholarship, or a secondary funding source. Students who want financial help from The Provo Promise must first apply for grants and at least one scholarship — foundation mentors will guide students through this process.

“We want them to know how to get what they need, how to apply for grants and scholarships, know how to get for themselves what they need,” she said.

The foundation isn’t concerned about students’ citizenship status, either. Those children want a college education and a bright future too, and they didn’t have a choice when their parents brought them to the U.S., Scholz said.

“You’re a Provo kid, and Provo takes care of its kids,” she added.

Because the foundation is brand new, it’s still raising money and looking for donors. It needs $1.4 million to provide for students at all three Provo high schools, and its fundraising deadline for that amount is the beginning of the 2017/2018 school year, Scholz said. If it can’t meet that goal, the scholarships will have to be need-based.

The foundation is based on others around the country, including one in Tangelo Park, Florida and several in Michigan.

“We want these children to know that no matter what their address is or where they came from, they can go to college.” —Keira Scholz, director of The Provo Promise

In Florida in 1993, hotelier Harris Rosen provided the financial backing for the Tangelo Park Program pilot program, which pays tuition, room, board, and living expenses for every Tangelo Park high school graduate at every vocational school, community college and public university in that state. The program also provides for preschool, parenting classes and vocational and technical educational opportunities for parents with children in school. Since its inception, 99 to 100 percent of students in the community graduate from high school. Of those students who attend college, 77 percent graduate. And crime in the area is down 63 percent.

In Michigan, there are more than a dozen Promise zones. The Kalamazoo Promise is more than 10 years old and funded by a small group of anonymous donors. It provides a four-year scholarship to all public school students who attended 9-12 grade in Kalamazoo Public Schools. They have 10 years to use the scholarship, and can start and stop at any time.

“It really changes an entire community,” Scholz said. “When we heard about these programs, we thought, ‘Why not here, why not in Provo?'”

Scholz said the concept for The Provo Promise has been around for at least two years, and a few UVU professors approached her about being the program’s director.

Scholz grew up in one of the poorest areas of Provo, The Boulders apartments. Even though no one in her family had graduated from high school, she was able to make it through college.

“We want The Provo Promise kids to know where to go, where to get help,” she said. … “Where to get mentors, not just money.”

The Provo Promise doesn’t want to replace groups like Gear Up or Latinos In Action, she said. And it’s not part of the Provo School District or UVU, but is supported by both organizations.

The foundation recently gained its 501(c)(3) status from the IRS, so all donations are tax-deductible. To donate or for more information, go to The Provo Promise website.

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Amie Rose has more than 14 years of experience writing and editing at newspapers in Utah and New Mexico. She graduated from BYU with a degree in journalism. She lives in Utah Valley with her husband, toddler and crazy dog.

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