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When John Johnson was installed as Concordia University’s president four years ago, community ties became a priority. On Nov. 18, that priority was realized in neighborhoods beyond Concordia’s immediate reach.

With officials from Fifth Third Bank, the university announced the launch of “Tomorrow’s Promise: Vision 2020,” an ambitious program that promises to assist 22 gifted but at-risk middle school students in Bellwood. Concordia and Fifth Third will partner with District 88 in Bellwood and District 209, anchored in Forest Park, to provide comprehensive educational and financial support to those students over the next 11 years.

If those children meet their academic and social obligations outlined in the program, they’ll be provided a full scholarship to the university.

“There’s so many people in this room who are rooting for your success,” Chip Reeves, vice president of marketing for Fifth Third Bank, said.

Two of the participating kids said they want to be surgeons and one would like to be a veterinarian. Another said he wants to be both “an NBA player and an accountant.”

The university and the bank will partner to cover the costs.

Financial and educational assistance

Concordia University will assist at several levels, including consulting with District 88 and District 209 staff, reviewing curriculum, and offering advice to improve classroom instruction. University students will also offer mentoring for each of the participating middle school students.

Fifth Third Bank will provide mentoring, school supplies, laptop computers and software to all the participants. Bank staff members will also conduct regular classes for parents to help with budgeting, financial planning and retirement. Those classes will be open to other interested District 88 parents as well.

District 209 school board President Chris Welch (top, last row, far left) was on hand.

In return, the 22 students are expected to earn As and Bs, as well as exhibit superior personal conduct. The sixth-graders, all of whom are expected to enroll at the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park, were selected for the program for their grade point averages, standardized test scores and teacher recommendations. They also had to demonstrate strong parental and family support.

Nicole Johnson-Scales, Fifth Third’s vice president of community affairs, told the 50 assembled parents and family members they were “a critical part of these kids’ success.” She promised her company would support them as the children progressed.

Tom Jandris, Concordia’s dean of graduate and innovative programs, said the school’s staff is “very excited” about the program’s prospects. Jandris said he began meeting last year with Terry Zink, Fifth Third Bank’s CEO, with the intention of developing something beyond scholarship support and other short-term interventions.

“We wanted to develop a unique program that had visible, tangible and direct, long-term results, for students, their families and their community” Jandris said.

What followed was a series of brainstorming and development sessions among Fifth Third and Concordia staff.

“By providing mentoring, tutoring, school supplies, technology, employment opportunities and financial support, Concordia and Fifth Third will be supplying the tools needed to help these students overcome economic and resource challenges,” Jandris said. “And to help them secure a college education by 2020.”

A model for the future

The four partners said they expect the program to reach far beyond the students’ classrooms.

“It is our hope that eventually Tomorrow’s Promise will serve as a model and a lighthouse for the expansion of similar public-private partnerships across the nation,” Jandris said.

Johnson told his potential university students that he is eager to celebrate the project’s success, saying, “I look forward to personally handing out your diplomas in 2020.”