All year long, people walked up to Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Grant Oliphant and asked, "Are you going to make it?"
Mr. Oliphant was able to give a definitive answer yesterday, saying the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program exceeded its $15 million fundraising goal for the year despite the recession and the "worst fundraising environment in a generation."
That announcement was the highlight of the Promise's first report to the community, an event that drew an overflow crowd of civic leaders at the Regional Enterprise Tower, Downtown.
The final fundraising tally was nearly $15.2 million. Gifts included $13 million from 17 foundations and $2 million from 31 corporations and organizations. Another $200,000 came from more than 500 individual donors, including families of the first group of Promise scholarship recipients.
"It's been a wonderful year," former Steeler Franco Harris, chairman of the Promise board, said in videotaped remarks. "A lot has been accomplished."
The Promise, which provides scholarships to graduates of the Pittsburgh Public Schools and city charter schools, was established in December 2006 by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. The two said they wanted to reward students for hard work and give the city a standout marketing tool.
The program got off the ground in December 2007, when University of Pittsburgh Medical Center gave $10 million outright and offered a nine-year, $90 million challenge grant.
To leverage the first $10 million of the challenge, the Promise had to raise $15 million by Tuesday, economic climate notwithstanding.
Throughout the year, the Pittsburgh Foundation, which administers the program, announced donations from various philanthropies and expressed cautious optimism about meeting the first-year goal.
By late May, however, efforts remained about $3 million short. Officials yesterday said a recent spate of donations -- including $1.5 million from Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and $400,000 from PNC -- pushed them over the top.
"We are demonstrating a commitment to community that I think the rest of the country would envy," Mr. Oliphant said.
To leverage the next $10 million of challenge money, the Promise must raise another $15 million by next June 30.
Officials said they already have commitments for about $7.5 million, mostly from foundations that have made multi-year pledges. They're also hoping to step up corporate donations.
Saleem Ghubril, the Promise's executive director, said David and Cindy Shapira will head a committee that will seek to raise $50 million from the business sector over several years. Mr. Shapira is chairman, president and CEO of Giant Eagle.
Bob Cindrich, UPMC senior vice president and chief legal officer, called the Promise the "one initiative that warrants all of our long-term support."
The Promise's inaugural round of scholarships went to 757 students who graduated from district and charter schools in 2008. The program paid $2.5 million for the students, mainly tuition.
To be eligible for scholarships, students must meet certain enrollment and academic requirements. The maximum scholarship now is $20,000, but officials hope to boost that to $40,000 by 2012.
Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Roosevelt launched the program, in part, because of years of population decline for the city and enrollment losses for the school district.
Mr. Ghubril yesterday said he hopes the program will help to halt the outflow by 2012. He said some encouraging signs already can be seen.
In each of the past five school years, he said, the district lost about 600 students between September and February. During 2008-09, he said, it lost 86.
Joe Smydo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.