Challenge Scholars Campaign Tops Goal

Grand Rapids Community Foundation announced today that it has exceeded the $32 million goal for its innovative Challenge Scholars program by raising $33.6 million toward the first phase of building the scholarship endowment. The public portion of the campaign announced on May 6, 2014, took one year to complete with funds coming from individuals, foundations and corporations around West Michigan. The Rise with Us campaign, as it was called, was co-chaired by four community leaders: Paul Doyle, founder and CEO of Inclusive Performance Strategies, Greg Willit, president, Benefits Resource Group, LLC;  Meg Willit, community volunteer and Kate Wolters, president, Kate and Richard  Wolters Foundation and Board of Directors member,  Steelcase Foundation.

Challenge Scholars, created in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, is a unique program in that it provides ongoing support for students at Harrison Park and Westwood Middle Schools and follows them through graduation from Union High School. The support is not only academic; but includes health and social services—this wraparound program helps West Side students be prepared for success in college.  Challenge Scholars offers scholarships to all Michigan public colleges and universities and three private schools—with Cornerstone University and Davenport University recently offering scholarships to students who choose these schools.

In addition to cash and planned gifts—local colleges and universities committed to provide funds for Challenge Scholars who will be attending Aquinas College, Cornerstone University, Davenport University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, and Grand Valley State University. University of Michigan recently launched a fundraising campaign for Challenge Scholars who wish to attend that school.  Colleges and university contributions make up nearly 40 percent of the campaign total.

“This has been a rewarding and challenging campaign—explaining Challenge Scholars and the depth of the program takes time—but it has helped us build relationships with donors and brought people to a greater understanding of the issues first generation college students face,” said Diana Sieger, president of Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “We are grateful to this generous community and the donors who stepped up to show their belief in the Challenge Scholars students, our public schools and in the Community Foundation.”

 “What I love about Challenge Scholars is how it comprehensively addresses the issues facing our students who are the first in their families to go to college,” said campaign co-chair Meg Miller Willit.  “From academics, to college and career information, to addressing challenges caused by poverty, this program works with the whole family, the whole student and helps them set a course for success.”

Learn more about the program here: