A Monumental Promise Moment

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Just a week before the people of the United States elect the 45th President of the United States, the Promise Movement will gather in Washington, D.C., for the first time as the College Promise Campaign will host the 8th Annual PromiseNet Conference October 24-26th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

PromiseNet is an opportunity for Promise community stakeholders to come together and share best practices around designing, implementing, and sustaining College Promise programs. This year it will bring together practitioners, researchers, and policymakers who are committed to expanding access to higher education and will enable discussions around local place-based scholarship programs, community economic development models and efforts to scale the Promise through state programs and federal proposals.

The movement to improve access and affordability in higher education is growing. Since the College Promise Campaign launched last September, more than two dozen new Promise programs have launched – from rural North Carolina to the country’s second largest city, Los Angeles.

Washington, D.C., will be the fifth city to host PromiseNet, joining Kalamazoo, Denver, Pittsburgh and New Haven. Important details to come.

The Plexus of The Promise

I just took in my second PromiseNet national conference, but the first one almost doesn’t count as I spent most of my time handling registration and logistics when we hosted in New Haven a year ago.

This time I was much more immersed in Promise discussion, learning from others and even passing on words of advice and encouragement.

In addition to that and paying homage to the 10th anniversary of The Kalamazoo Promise, we also worked in a good bit of fun.

patricia-vonOn Tuesday night Cities of Promise hosted the first Promise Swag Swap at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange. The idea was simple. After the official PromiseNet activities came to an end, we kept the party going and engaged the Promise professionals who came far and wide through an exchange of apparel, an exchange of ideas and an exchange of laughter.

About 60 of the conference attendees took over the ground floor. Folks from Denver and Vegas. Oakland, Los Angeles, San Marcos and Richmond, Calif. Ypsilanti, Muskegon, and Wayne, Mich. The Villages, Fla., Pittsburgh and D.C. Dayton, Akron and Piqua, Ohio, were all there. Greenwood, S.C., Hartford, Conn., Rockford, Ill., La Crosse, Wis., and Philadelphia. New York City and New Haven, Conn. And even the PromiseNet hosts from Kalamazoo were there. (Click here for a full gallery from the Swag Swap)

jorth-antonioWe appreciated everyone’s attendance and support of the Movement. That’s what Cities of Promise is about — networking, showcasing and sharing.

And there’s also emotion. Bob Jorth, the executive director of The Kalamazoo Promise, admits to being quick to tears and when he introduced 12-year-old Antonio at the 10th Anniversary Gala on Wednesday night, he was a bit overcome.

You see, Antonio, is expected to be the first second-generation Promise scholar in Kalamazoo. His mother graduated from college thanks to the Promise and is now a teacher with Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Seeing generational results? Yeah, that’s reason to cry.

Salute, Celebrate, Innovate

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More than three dozen Promise programs from across the country — and other explorers hoping to join the Cities of Promise — will descend upon ground zero for the movement next week.

That’s because PromiseNet 2015 is returning to Kalamazoo, Mich., beginning Tuesday and concluding Thursday. In addition to speeches, panels and networking sessions, there will also be a gala celebration of the 10th Anniversary of The Kalamazoo Promise on Wednesday night at the Radisson Hotel downtown. (Cities of Promise is even hosting a swag swap on Tuesday night)

nhp-5-yearsOur journey from New Haven, Conn., to PromiseNet will begin on Monday, which is the 5th Anniversary of the announcement of the establishment of the New Haven Promise. The picture of then-Yale President Rick Levin and then-New Haven Mayor John DeStefano was taken at that event on Nov. 9, 2010.

This movement is young, yet it is the most exciting thing happening in higher education right now. It is diverse as communities are finding new forms of funding and programming that are specific to their resources, needs and concerns.

As I’ve written before, a committed community does not need much to start a program. Taking advantage of existing resources and highlighting opportunities for scholars and families can lead to much more. We are seeing that in California with the Ontario-Montclair Promise Scholars program, which for a decade produced a college-going culture without a funder.

One of the reason the Promise movement is the most exciting thing in higher education is because it is supremely innovative. We are seeing combinations of business leaders, government officials, philanthropists and education administrators pulling together to solve problems that haven’t been resolved alone.

So our trip to Kalamazoo is a salute to all that has been accomplished and a celebration of what is yet to come.

A Lasting Impact

Perhaps the most powerful participant in the three-day PromiseNet conference was New Haven Promise Scholar Jordy Padilla, now a senior at the University of New Haven. With many of the Promise program directors in the room at Friday’s breakfast, Padilla sat down with New Haven Promise Executive Director Patricia Melton and laid out the challenges and the — at least temporary — solutions for the undocumented student. Continue reading