In the United States, college education is a vital route to upward social mobility, with low-income Americans who obtain a college degree five times more likely to escape poverty than their peers.
Philadelphia Futures (Futures) is a college access and success organisation that helps low-income first-generation-to-college students with the tools to get to and through college. Sara Woods is the dedicated Executive Director, growing the not-for-profit to reach more and more young people.
“Our programs empower high school students from grades nine through to 12, with one-on-one mentoring, financial literacy and planning for students and their families,” says Sara.
There are two entry points for students, either grade 9 or 11. For students beginning in grade 9, their relationship with Futures can span eight years.
“The Sponsor-A-Scholar program begins in grade 9 where a student is paired up with a professional mentor who shares one hour a week with them to talk about life and their future,” says Sara.
Stu George, Senior Vice President and Head of Equity Trading for Macquarie Investment Management, has been volunteering with Futures since 2013.
“The first kid I mentored through to college is from Dominica,” says Stu. “He and his parents, they’re incredibly kind, loving people. These aren’t disadvantaged people – just less advantaged. They come from loving homes, but don’t have access or financial means to further education.”
For Stu, giving back in this way is incredibly meaningful for him.
“When I was younger, I was fortunate to have access to people who could mentor me, despite being the first person in my family to know anything about Wall Street. To get to these higher levels of my career, I needed to learn from people who had been there. So there have been some important people in my life who taught me different things as I became a professional,” says Stu.
He sees working with younger people as a symbiotic relationship.
“Young people are optimistic and so am I. I would hate for that flame to be dampened, so I try to enhance it. I want them to know what is possible and what they are capable of.”
And the young people involved with the Futures programs are proving their capability. “We are very proud of our students who are graduating from college at record rates, beating local and national averages,” says Sara. “We want to move the needle and where Macquarie is helping us, is not just to get to graduation, but to start careers.”
For the next three years, Macquarie has made a significant investment in Futures, with a US$225,000 grant to help them expand their career initiatives.
With the additional funding, Futures has hired a Director of Career Initiatives who is focusing on the transition period from college graduation into a career.
“We think of it as an upward career spiral, hosting career days, career panels, hosting cover letter workshops, interview workshops and arranging internships,” says Sara.
Macquarie people are involved through skilled volunteering, helping Futures students in their college to career transition.
“The people I know of that are involved find it totally invigorating. You see these kids so intelligent, curious and open-minded – to give them a lift up or an assist is so meaningful, especially when all it’s really about is being yourself, and sharing time with another person,” says Stu.
Now serving on the Board, Stu is honoured to work with the selfless and committed group. “The Board is made up of all walks of life. It includes city councillors, ex-Philadelphia Futures students and is run by an incredible executive, Sara Woods. I’m so proud to be a part of it and proud Macquarie will continue to support them.”
Stu says longevity is a vital part in any valuable relationship, be it as a mentor or corporate partner.
“Our relationship as a corporate is similar to me being a mentor: I don’t want to mentor for one year, I want to mentor for three or four years so we can grow and learn together.”