Innovative Partnership Aims to Break Poverty Cycle for Inner-city Students

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Alvernia University, Olivet Boys & Girls Club leading $10 million Reading Collegiate Scholars Program focusing on college preparedness, success for low-income students.

We believe this effort can become a national model for how medium-sized cities foster college success for local lower-income students by integrating the efforts of education, social services, business, and civic leaders.

Working to give inner-city students an opportunity to rise above poverty, Alvernia University, in partnership with the Olivet Boys and Girls Club, is launching a major initiative called the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program, aimed at preparing larger numbers of high school students from Reading to attend and succeed at the college of their choice.

When fully implemented, the two organizations expect to commit more than $10 million over a four-year period to the program. Support from private donors, foundations and the two organizations will fund the ambitious initiative.

“We believe this effort can become a national model for how medium-sized cities foster college success for local lower-income students by integrating the efforts of education, social services, business, and civic leaders,” said Alvernia President Thomas F. Flynn. “The commitment required is large but the potential to change lives is even greater. And the return on investment for our community is unmatchable.”

“This innovative collaboration will emphasize perseverance, commitment to excellence, pride in performance, and strong character,” said James R. Smith, chief operating officer at Olivet. “This partnership will address the vicious cycle of poverty, one young person at a time.”

The program’s vision of providing up to 20 full Alvernia scholarships each year is partially contingent on rallying additional donor support behind the cause. “We believe in the program’s ability to make a difference and are making a significant investment in it, but we need others to join us in addressing this important issue,” said Flynn. “Resources may dictate how fast the program will grow, but our sights are site high. The stakes are too great not to cast a wide vision on what this effort can do.”

In the nation’s second poorest city, many Reading High School students are struggling to make a better future for themselves. Slightly more than 60 percent receive diplomas and many who do have low SAT scores and below basic skills in reading, math, and writing. The combination makes it difficult to adjust to a college curriculum. As a result, few ever graduate from college.

But beginning this spring, through the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program, Alvernia and the Olivet Boys and Girls Club, hope to help hard-working students break the cycle. The program is designed to better prepare students in grades 9-12 for college. Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community Engagement will begin by providing regular tutoring, mentoring, and other activities to hundreds of high school students at Alvernia and Olivet locations around the city.

After high school, up to 20 of these students annually will receive full scholarships to Alvernia and continue their education as a cohort. Some students may first attend Reading Area Community College to complete one or more successful years before progressing to Alvernia. The university’s O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service will coordinate efforts on campus to assist students in adjusting to academic and university life and ensure they receive team building and leadership development skills. Students will also receive assistance in finding internships and summer placements.

“Everyday, more children in Reading fall through the cracks,” says Jay Worrall, director of the Holleran Center. “They don’t have stable home lives, lack parental support, and struggle with basic learning skills. Some of these kids end up being lost to society. They drop out of school and choose narrower paths though life. Some find jobs. Some get an education. Some make it. But far too many fall through the cracks – and so the cycle continues.”

ALVERNIA is a thriving university that empowers students through real-world learning to discover their passion for life, while providing the education to turn what they love into lifetimes of career success and personal fulfillment, helping them make the world a better place.

Situated on a scenic 121-acre suburban campus in historic Berks County, Pa., the university of more than 3,000 students is conveniently located near Philadelphia (60 miles) and within an easy drive of New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. With a College of Arts and Sciences and College of Professional Studies, Alvernia today offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and minors and a range of graduate programs at the master’s and doctoral levels through its School of Graduate and Adult Education. Satellite sites are located in Philadelphia and Schuylkill County. As one of only 22 Franciscan institutions in the country, Alvernia’s focus on caring for each other, the environment and the community are joined with a challenging educational experience to provide an unparalleled environment to grow, develop and mature as a person and professional.

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Carey Manzolillo
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