Anyone who reads the papers or watches local television has no doubt seen the headlines concerning the current state of the Say Yes Guilford initiative.

While the media have done a very fair job reporting about the initiative’s challenges, as President of one of the Foundations who have raised and are now managing the Say Yes Guilford funds, I want to share some thoughts and insights about the immediate and long-term status of this most important endeavor. [UPDATE 4/21/17: read about the Say Yes Guilford information meeting in High Point, here.]

The challenge Say Yes Guilford is currently facing can be directly linked to incorrect assumptions made with the scholarship formula due to inaccurate numbers regarding the makeup of our local student population. Upon learning that the formula was not correct, Say Yes Guilford leadership began working on changes that would insure long-term sustainability. This is a very complex and painstaking process that has been slowed down by the delay of necessary data that is critical to the decision making process.

It’s important to remember that in its first year, this program has produced very significant results. More FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms were completed than ever before, more students went to four-year universities, more students attended state universities and a culture has been established in our schools that begins in elementary schools which instills a mindset that post-secondary educational plans are now an expected outcome for all of our students.

Perhaps the least understood and most significant aspect of the program are the “Student Support Services” which are currently being rolled out. They represent an additional $15 million that the Say Yes National organization will be investing in our communities. While scholarships are always exciting, it will be these services that bring long-term change to our local schools by preparing students to successfully take advantage of the scholarships.

Lest we forget, this initiative has been and continues to be one of the most successful partnerships ever between High Point and Greensboro. It has also raised more money than any of the Say Yes communities to date with $42 million in pledges and gifts thus far. At this time over $9.2 million has been received and invested at the two Community Foundations. We are ahead of schedule and keep in mind, this will be a 10 year project that will impact our community in perpetuity.

Another key aspect that has been overlooked by some critics of the program is that Say Yes Guilford has been totally underwritten by local donors—it is a private sector initiative. Neither of the City Councils. nor the County Board of Commissioners have ever been asked to contribute financially for scholarships. This is as it should be and I believe it brings great credibility to the project. The future of successful, sustainable community development is in private sector investment and leadership.

We are attempting to change a national educational paradigm that has been broken for some time now. This is an enormous task that will take patience, courage and commitment

In the 18 years I’ve served as President of the High Point Community Foundation, I have witnessed the awesome power that focused and united community leadership can produce. I have also learned that it is those who dare, who are willing to devote their time, resources and reputations in a great cause, who ultimately achieve truly significant, transformative change.

I am proud to be associated with these people who are so committed to making our respective communities better with absolutely no benefit for themselves. Everything from the point of inception of this initiative has been done with integrity, transparency and passion. Local leaders like David Miller, Chuck Cornelio, Alan Duncan, Ann Busby, Skip Moore and so many others represent the very best of us and they should be celebrated, honored and supported by our entire community.

Say Yes Guilford is about our young people and our communities reaching their fullest God-given potential. It is indeed one of the most significant initiatives of our generation that will have the capacity to dictate the futures of both cities. I believe we are visionary enough to take the long view, have the moral courage to soldier through the inevitable challenges and wise enough to appreciate the ultimate value of this initiative for our future generations.

Paul Lessard
High Point Community Foundation

(This article was published in the High Point Enterprise, April 2, 2017.)