This month’s SobelCo Client Spotlight is shining on the Tri-County Scholarship Fund (TCSF), a nonprofit founded in 1981 that provides the best and most direct way to support the critical educational needs of the most financially disadvantaged children in northern New Jersey.  In so doing, Tri-County makes a meaningful and lasting impact on these children and on the communities in which they live.

History of Tri-County Scholarship Fund

The organization was founded by Ed Hennessey and Bishop Frank Rodimer of the Diocese of Paterson, two men with an inspired idea: that it is possible to materially and permanently improve the lives of children from the poorest of New Jersey’s inner-city families by providing them access to the superior and safer option of values-based private schools. TCSF’S mission was to create a Fund to target underprivileged children in economically challenged families in grades K-12. TCSF would provide scholarships for these young children, enabling them to go to accredited private and parochial schools, thus arming them with the tools they would need to build an outstanding future.

Since its inception 37 years ago, Tri-County Scholarship Fund has focused on that mission by providing over 31,000 scholarships for many of New Jersey’s inner-city children.  As a result,  these children have been able to go on to college and productive careers, positively impacting their families as well as their communities.

A Formula for Achieving Goals

At TCSF they are able to achieve their vision because of the financial support they receive from their partners. Working closely with the schools, parents, and individual and corporate donors, the Tri-County Scholarship Fund has built a formula for success. The formula is simple: to connect ambitious and eager students, committed parents, supportive schools, and charitable funders who recognize that in order to break the cycle of poverty through education, financially needy children need an opportunity to attend better, safer schools. 

This partnership is integral to the organization’s ability to change the lives of the students and their families by giving them alternatives through enriched education at the  values-based, quality schools in our area. Tri-County provides partial scholarships, $2,000 for grades K-8 and $4,000 for high school. 

The First Piece of the Partnership is the Parents

The parents have an important role to play in this scenario. They usually match the scholarships provided by TCSF, and so have significant “skin in the game.”  For families with an average annual household income of $30,000, the parental contribution of $2,000 for elementary school and $4,000 for high school poses a significant challenge. But these parents do whatever it takes to give their children the advantages that TCSF makes possible. The parents’ determination is unwavering, even when it means taking on extra part-time jobs, tightening their belts even more, and often going without needed items because they are so dedicated to the possibility of giving their child a much better life through a high quality, safe education.

The Second Factor is the Schools

The schools are also enthusiastic about partnering with TCSF because they want to enroll students who they know will appreciate the opportunity for an exceptional academic experience.  For the most part these kids are from nearby neighborhoods, and the schools want them to flourish. The schools partner with Tri-County by discounting the student tuition.  In this way these schools become within reach of the qualified, but financially needy students who can excel, if just given the chance.  

Individual and Corporate Donors Represent the Third Component of the Formula

New Jersey has a flourishing corporate landscape and many of the business leaders and wealthy individuals who work and reside in the state are genuinely committed to improving the lives of these disadvantaged youth. The business community has much to gain when helping to develop an educated, diverse work force. And that is exactly what occurs when TCSF graduates go on to college where they flourish as a result of having been exposed to a rigorous elementary and high school experience.

It’s All About the Students

The first three ingredients – parents, schools, and donors – are keys to the vision of TCS, but it is the students who are the most critical constituency. It is their energy, drive, passion and determination that is the heart of it all.

Interestingly, these young people don’t think of themselves as disadvantaged. When asked to write their personal ‘stories’ to present at various annual Tri-County events, most of them focus on the wonderful opportunities they have had rather than thinking about all the barriers they have overcome to achieve their objectives. They define themselves by the chances they’ve been given and not by the challenges and daily obstacles they have had to face. 100% of the students graduate – and while all point to their parents and grandparents as their heroes - the reality is that they have been the ones to come shining through, inspiring and motivating us all.     

The Fundraising Behind the Mission

Of course none of this would be possible without consistent financial support. One of the ways that TCSF funds the scholarships is through the compassion and generosity to the Tri-County Annual Awards Dinner. There are three elements to the Gala Dinner that make it an exceptionally profitable evening. The first is the honorees. These members of the business community are recognized for making a difference in the state. They are well-known and highly regarded pillars of society who serve to draw a full house every year. The room is electric with excitement as everyone realizes the influence they are having on these young lives. The second element is the TCSF board of trustees who are dedicated ambassadors for TCSF in supporting the cause, and in inviting friends and colleagues to join them for a great night.  The third and critical component is the students themselves.  Dozens of the scholarship recipients attend the dinner, each sitting at a different table so that they can meet and mingle with the guests who are so generous to the organization. They share their stories, point with pride to their journey, and show profound appreciation for their parents’ efforts to give them such a valuable experience.

At this year’s event, along with all of the table sponsorships and honoree and tributes that took place with the leadership of Dinner Co-chairs Paul Boudreau and Fran Howard, TCSF co-founder Ed Hennessy threw out a $50,000 challenge to the crowd. He announced that he and his friend, Peter Grimm, would contribute that sum, if the audience would match it with their own donations. The contributions poured in and ultimately before the evening ended they had raised another $150,000! Not only did they exceed the match, but they raised the spirit in the room and built new relationships that will last for many years into the future.

The dinner drew a record crowd that enabled Tri-County to again exceed their fundraising expectations!  By the time the evening had drawn to a close, TCSF had surpassed their $1 million goal.  This amount will fund scholarships for over 330 children!

Major gifts also play a substantial role in funding scholarships. This year a funding organization that is carrying out the legacy of its founder to continue her commitment to supporting kids and fostering educational opportunities gave TCSF a one million dollar gift. This major distribution made it possible for TCSF to extend scholarship offers to over 60 students who were on their waiting list - and with the invested proceeds, they will be able to do so again every year going forward.   

Planned giving is also important.  In recent months Tri-County Co-Founder Edward Hennessey underscored his personal commitment to funding future Tri-County scholarships through a planned gift of one million dollars.  As Ed says,  “This cause is more important today than when I started it. I think about the future of our country. Educating inner-city children benefits all of us.”

This generosity is a “game changer” for TCSF as it continues under the guidance of Executive Director Prudence Pigott in tandem with Chairman, Rick DeBel (Senior VP Wells Fargo Bank) and a prestigious Board of Trustees.

If you want to learn more about Tri-County Scholarship, or learn how you can help support a scholarship, please visit their website at www.tcsfund.org.