Amid a pep-rally-like atmosphere Wednesday at Suitland High School in Forestville, Maryland, a District-based philanthropy group announced it would spearhead a $15 million fundraising campaign to help prepare high school students for college and obtain careers.
Venture Philanthropy Partners of Northwest D.C. will partner with Prince George’s County Public Schools to incorporate “Ready for Work: Champions for Career and College Ready Graduates in Prince George’s County.”
“Ready for Work has no single leader. This is a drumline. Ready for Work includes business, government, schools, nonprofits and philanthropy,” said Carol Thompson Cole, president and CEO of Venture. “We are drumming together … for our youth in Prince George’s County schools.”
According to a stat sheet from Venture, the employment rate for those ages 16 to 19 in the county is 25 percent, compared with the state average of 35 percent.
The organization also outlined how 65 percent of all jobs will require educational training beyond a high school diploma in five years.
So far, nearly $5 million has been raised toward the program that focuses on three initiatives: providing students with technical and academic skill sets, enhancing interpersonal and work proficiency, and having local businesses offer internships that could become future jobs.
Some of the technical training will come from the county school system’s “Career Academies,” a program that allows students to study a particular subject such as engineering, business and information technology. Another factor from the Ready for Work plan will model Venture’s “youthCONNECT” agenda that seeks nonprofit organizations to help youth and young adults – ages 14 to 24 – who come from low-income families.
Both programs are incorporated at Suitland.
Seniors Cameron Tucker-Robinson and Derricka George, both 17, are part of the school’s Business Career Academy, which teaches them how to start up a business, organize journal entries as an accountant and manage money.
George, who wants to become a financial advisor and attend Pace University in New York City, said she has taken field trips to various
businesses and received financial advice from bankers who visited the school.
Tucker-Robinson is still contemplating his college choice, but plans to study exercise and health science and pursue a minor in business management. He wants to own a gymnasium.
“Here at Suitland, we are getting a running start to find out where your place is in life,” Tucker-Robinson said. “I know how to balance and manage a check book, but I don’t know much about marketing. The Business Academy sets you straight when going into the business world.”
Laurie Peterson, director of the Peterson Family Foundation of Fairfax, Virginia, said the educational component drove her to join Venture’s board of directors and help with the Ready for Work program. The Peterson Companies are the developers of the National Harbor waterfront residential and business community.
“Maryland has been very good to us. National Harbor is kind of a legacy that our company will leave behind and that makes Prince George’s County a part of our story,” she said. “As a part of our story, we should be partners with (the county) and help improve the county and make lives better as much as we are capable.”
With Venture helping to lead the Ready for Work initiative, the goal is to raise another $10 million and expand the program into Oxon Hill High School in Oxon Hill and High Point High School in Beltsville. In addition to having the money, prepare 2,100 county students for college, or a career, by 2021.
The program will support those students who live in the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative communities that aim to improve public safety, housing and other social services. Suitland is part of the TNI program.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said Venture’s plan may encourage other nonprofit and philanthropy organizations to invest in the county.
“To have [Venture] come into Prince George’s County for the first time means other philanthropic organizations with major dollars will look and say, ‘Oh, wow, we never thought about investing in the county. We see VPP there. Maybe we should go there, too,'” he said. “Once we get this established, we can … expand the [Ready for Work] program throughout the county. This is how you change neighborhoods and improve our schools.”