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First Generation program generates campaign momentum


Momentum is sometimes a difficult quality to define. In many cases, it becomes clear only after experience shows a growing surge in actions that garners attention. Whether talking about a football game or a political campaign, momentum is an essential element of success.


Such momentum is clear when looking at The Power of Transformation campaign for the University of North Florida, and specifically at one of the programs that is proving to be increasingly popular with donors – The First Generation Program.


Since the kickoff of the public phase of the campaign last year, donors have been coming forward in increasing numbers to add dollars to the program. More than $2.5 million in First Generation scholarships has been awarded to assist about 750 students since 2006, when the program started. To date, about 240 students have earned degrees through the program and several have earned or are working toward graduate degrees.


As the name implies, it is a scholarship program designed to make college possible for the first generation of many Florida families.


The popularity of the program works well with the goal of The Power of Transformation campaign, according to Pierre Allaire, vice president of Institutional Advancement. “We pride ourselves on our ability to transform lives because of the unequaled opportunities we provide for transformational experiences both in and outside of the classroom,” Allaire said. “The First Generation scholarship program is quickly becoming one of the most popular tools to make that transformation a reality for hundreds of students.”


Part of the attraction may lie in the State of Florida’s commitment to the program. For every private dollar contributed to the scholarship, the state will match the donation with an equal amount. “As matching programs go, this program is among the best,” Allaire noted.


The list of donors grows monthly. A few examples:


The PLAYERS Championship Charities Inc. was recently named the title sponsor of the annual First Generation luncheon following a $250,000 pledge to the program beginning in the spring of 2011.


Jay Monahan, executive director of THE PLAYERS Championship, said the scholarship donation presents an opportunity to change lives. “The scholarship gives first-generation students an opportunity for a world-class education while also giving us an opportunity to have a significant impact on the community since so many UNF graduates remain in the area to pursue careers.”


Private businesses also have gotten involved in the First Generation Program.


EverBank Financial Corp., a Jacksonville-based financial services firm, recently pledged $250,000 over five years for the program.


Blake Wilson, EverBank president and CFO, said one factor in the decision to support the program was UNF’s impressive track record of helping students. “It is advantageous to EverBank to support the education of students who will become Jacksonville’s future workforce,” he said.


While organizational donations have played a major role in the First Generation success story, gifts by individuals continue to be the hallmark of the program.


Take, for example, Dianne and Gary McCalla who decided on the First Generation program because it could be leveraged with state funds and because it would have a long-term impact on Jacksonville. Relatively new Jacksonville residents – they moved here about 10 years ago – the McCallas are passionate about education.


“This was a no-brainier for us,” Dianne McCalla said. “This is the most important way we can improve Jacksonville. It is phenomenal when you think you can give money and it will be doubled.”


The McCallas wanted to have an immediate impact with their gift and decided to give $25,000 to be used to support the general First Generation Scholarship fund and $50,000 to go into the Dianne and Gary McCalla First Generation Scholarship Endowment Fund to generate revenue to assist future students.


The McCallas, like many scholarship donors, have met with some of the student recipients. “It is so inspiring to meet these students and to know you played a role in helping them overcome major obstacles,” she said.


Echoing those feelings are Stephen and Phyllis Bachand who moved to Jacksonville from Canada and decided they wanted to contribute to the community as they’ve done everywhere else they’ve lived.


As a first-generation college graduate, Stephen Bachand said experience played a role in his decision to provide scholarship support for the program. “I believe a quality education is an engine of opportunity. If you support education, it becomes an engine of growth, which in turns starts a chain reaction for the betterment of the community,” he said.


The Bachand’s gift of $75,000 will go directly to the scholarship program and generate another $75,000 in state matching funds.


Banchand, a UNF Foundation Board member, said he wants to create a “cycle of learning” with each student who receives such a scholarship and in turn prompts their future sons, daughters and grandchildren to attend college.