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Say Yes to Education in Syracuse meets $30 million goal

Tom Magnarelli
Peter Dunn, the president and CEO of the CNY Community Foundation, which manages the Say Yes endowment fund.

In her State of the County address, County Executive Joanie Mahoney announced that $20 million dollars from the region’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative will go towards Syracuse’s Say Yes to Education endowment. The program provides college tuition to public high school graduates in Syracuse and was facing a fundraising shortfall until the announcement.

Syracuse’s Say Yes to Education program needed to raise $20 million by next year in order to continue operations. County Executive Joanie Mahoney said upstate revitalization funds will be covering the gap.  

“Here is an unbelievable opportunity,” Mahoney said. “If we’re going to focus on economic empowerment and job training, what better economic empowerment tool is there than to fund Say Yes to Education?”

Empire State Development Corporation president and CEO Howard Zemsky said the most important way to break the cycle of poverty is with education.

“The economy needs a great workforce and every passing year the importance of education gets higher and higher for every job in today’s economy,” Zemsky said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Say Yes to Education announced a $400,000 donation from the city of Syracuse. That was the last amount needed to match an SRC grant of $5 million, bringing the program’s scholarship endowment an additional $10 million. The Syracuse chapter of Say Yes needed a total of $30 million to pay for the scholarships that the National Say Yes organization will stop paying for in 2017. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said the program must be a priority each year.

"This is the exact kind of thing that we should be supporting to help move people, students out of poverty, give them access to good jobs and a high quality of life," Miner said. "We're also now starting to see these first Say Yes graduates come back to our community, take jobs in our community and tell us how important it was."

More than 1,000 public high school students in Syracuse are assisted by the scholarship fund annually.