By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Promise, which provides funds for tuition and work experience for city students, will receive $8 million in donations from several area companies, it was announced Tuesday.
The gifts included a $5 million commitment from Vulcan Value Partners, an investment management firm located in Birmingham, and $1 million each from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama and Protective Life Corporation and $1 million from Alabama Power Company for the second year in a row.
The donations go to city students entering Alabama’s public two-year and four-year colleges and universities.
“This is the largest private donation received to date,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “I want to thank each of our partners for their commitment, for their passion and for their resources in investing in and believing in our children and also believing and investing in this vision for a brighter Birmingham.”
Rachel Harmon, executive director of Birmingham Promise Inc., said the contributions are not just about money “it is about futures,” she said. “We have served nearly 400 students this year through the scholarship work specifically and we’ve served 150 students through our apprenticeship program and each of those represents a change trajectory and a promise for our future for our city.”
The Birmingham Promise Initiative creates post-secondary opportunities and apprenticeships for city schools students and has two tracks: tuition assistance that covers college and apprenticeships; and career experience to prepare students for post-graduation opportunities.
Justin Williams, a rising sophomore at the University of Alabama studying computer engineering and a Birmingham Promise scholar, said the program provides life-changing opportunities.
“Thanks to this wonderful initiative, I have been provided the opportunity to do many different things,” said Williams, a 2020 graduate of Parker High School. “I was able to participate in not only one, but two apprenticeship opportunities . . . I am able to attend the University of Alabama… that provides me with the opportunity to not worry about a financial strain on myself and my family and I can focus on my work and being the best person I can be.”
Dr. Mark Sullivan, superintendent of BCS, said Birmingham Promise will provide support for hundreds of scholars who will graduate this week from city schools.
“While we are excited about their accomplishments, we are even more excited about what they will do in the future,” he said. “Many of our scholars will pursue university and community college degrees with financial support from Birmingham Promise. This announcement of additional contributions today is a huge investment in our business and civic leaders of tomorrow.”
The city has committed $10 million over five years to the program.
To date, Birmingham Promise has partnered with businesses to offer 150 paid apprenticeships to juniors and seniors in Birmingham City Schools.
In its first year of providing scholarships, the Birmingham Promise supported 296 students, 293 of whom had a financial gap related to tuition and received direct financial assistance totaling almost $1.5 million. All students received supportive services through Birmingham Promise success coaches and staff.
For the class of 2021, 618 students have completed the application and are on track to provide all necessary documentation for tuition assistance by June 1.
Vulcan Value Partners said the vision of Birmingham Promise is aligned with its corporate philosophy and goals.
“As long-term investors, we look for leadership and vision, both of which Mayor Woodfin has delivered with Birmingham Promise,” said C.T. Fitzpatrick, founder, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Vulcan Value Partners. “By committing to Birmingham Promise, we are investing in our future–our young people–knowing that what we are doing today will pay dividends in the future.”
Tim Vines, President and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama said its investment is a commitment into the community.
“One of our corporate values at Blue Cross is ‘Give back to the community,’ a commitment that we uphold and continue to carry out by investing in the health, education and well-being of Alabamians,” said Vines. “Through these efforts, our goal is to help create a stronger, healthier Alabama and the Birmingham Promise is a perfect fit for this vision.”
President and CEO of Protective Life, Rich Bielen, said education is key in ensuring opportunity happens. “At Protective, we know we are only as successful as the communities in which we live and we are committed to making a positive impact. Education is a cornerstone to providing equitable and accessible opportunities and we are proud to support this project, which enables Birmingham’s students to move our region forward,” he said.
For more information visit www.birminghampromise.org or call 205-843-5967.