In its 25 years, I Know I Can has handed out more than $25 million in grants and scholarships. And over that time, more than 27,000 Columbus City Schools students have been helped to college, the group says.
The idea, in the beginning, was to give small grants to Columbus students who needed a little extra help to get to college.
That was 25 years ago, when I Know I Can, a nonprofit group that works exclusively with Columbus City Schools, was born. It had a goal of raising $5 million. But the group went well beyond those early goals: It has awarded more than $25 million in grants and scholarships to more than 27,000 Columbus students.
I Know I Can celebrated its anniversary yesterday with a luncheon at the Ohio Union on Ohio State University’s campus. There, leaders of Columbus’ business and philanthropic communities and students celebrated the group’s successes and noted how much it has grown.
“I Know I Can has unlocked that door for me — a door to college and a door to Harvard University,” said Yusuph Mkangara, a Columbus Alternative High School graduate. The Harvard freshman and Tanzania native is a recipient of one of the group’s newer scholarships, which pays up to $10,000 a year for four years.
For many years, I Know I Can focused on handing out “last-chance grants,” or small grants to help families fill the gap between financial aid and the amount they were expected to contribute. It has since grown into a wide-reaching college-access organization for Columbus students.
“In 2009, we changed our mission from the idea of pursuing college to the idea of completing college,” said Katina Fullen, the executive director.
Columbus Interim Superintendent Dan Good said that one of the reasons the group has been so successful is that its volunteers and staff members take time to develop strong relationships with students. And they’re in it for the long haul, he said. Mentors of middle-school students are likely to still be with them during the college-application process in high school.
Much of the group’s work still centers on grants and scholarships, but it now also includes financial-aid workshops and college-entrance-exam prep courses and management of a college-savings program that provides matching funds for students who save for school. The staff members act as college advisers and instruct a class called Blueprint: College, which teaches students and their parents the process of getting into college. Nearly 2,000 families took the class last school year.
“Going to college should be more than a privilege. It should be a right,” said Robert Weiler, one of the group’s four founders.
Weiler, along with schools advocate Teckie Shackelford, the family of the late Cliff Tyree Sr., and the late Arthur Kobacker were honored for their contributions as program founders.
Fullen announced that a group of central Ohio colleges and universities will create I Know I Can scholarships for students starting next school year. Otterbein University, Columbus State Community College, Columbus College of Art and Design, Denison University, Ohio Wesleyan University and Ohio State have pledged a total of $800,000, Fullen said.