Two landmark Philly nonprofits are merging to help more kids get to college. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Philadelphia Futures and Steppingstone Scholars will merge in the fall, creating an organization with a $10 million annual budget that serves 3,000 city students a year.
Two landmark education nonprofits are merging, creating an organization that will spend $10 million annually to help 3,000 Philadelphia students plan for and better access college and careers.
Philadelphia Futures and Steppingstone Scholars will officially unite as a yet-to-be-named new entity this fall, according to an agreement unanimously approved by both organizations’ boards Tuesday night. The actual date of the merger must be finalized in Philadelphia Orphans’ Court.
The merger started in a Starbucks, when Sara Woods, executive director of Philadelphia Futures, and Sean Vereen, who leads Steppingstone, met to discuss how their organizations might work together to serve more students. Over 18 months, they worked out the details, aided by funding from the William Penn Foundation and the Nonprofit Repositioning Fund.
“We’re not doing this out of financial need,” said Vereen, who will co-lead the organization with Woods. “We’re doing it out of a need to serve students better. There’s an opportunity.”
Steppingstone was founded in 1999 as an offshoot of a Boston educational foundation; it focuses on providing underserved students sustainable access to academic and workforce opportunities. It has a budget of $4.9 million and a staff of 31 and serves about 2,000 students annually.
Philadelphia Futures was founded in 1989 by education professor and advocate Marciene Mattleman. It helps first-generation, low-income students get to and succeed in college, has a budget of $4.2 million, and serves 750 students each year. In 2011, Futures merged with White-Williams Scholars, one of the oldest charities in the United States, established in 1800 to help low-income children achieve academic goals.
The latest merger will leverage Futures’ significant college-advising capacity and Steppingstone’s extensive partnerships, Woods and Vereen said: The combined group will have 21 college partnerships providing college courses for credit to high school students, scholarship opportunities, and support to help students persist in college. It will also provide more than 300 internships to high school and college students.
“The pathway moving forward for students is bigger, it’s wider, it’s longer,” said Woods, a lawyer who will lead operations and innovation. “For both organizations, we can really open the doors K to 16 — all the way to high school graduation, and then college and careers.”
Employees of the new, merged organization will be embedded inside 22 Philadelphia School District schools as counselors and advisers. That’s a significant increase; Steppingstone now has a presence inside 12 schools and Futures’ staffs were based centrally, not inside schools.
The new nonprofit will spend $4.5 million annually on programming to create or bolster a “college and career culture,” officials said, and to support educational transitions to ensure graduation from high school. The nonprofit will have 71 employees total, and no layoffs will result from the merger. The organization will have a $30 million endowment.
All students who are currently served by either Futures or Steppingstone will continue to receive support — “we have a big commitment to make sure there’s not less for them. This is about being additive,” said Vereen, an educator who will oversee student outcomes and experience.
The goal is ambitious: breaking generational poverty with a vision for the new organization to ensure that “all Philadelphia students graduate high school with pathways to economic mobility through college and workforce success.”
“The city has had poverty over 20% for longer than I’ve been alive,” Vereen said. “This is the opportunity to build an organization that’s going to think in those terms — how do we connect the educational opportunities and the economic opportunities? This is the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m excited to do it right.”
By 2024, the organization hopes to serve 5,000 students per year, beginning at the middle-school level.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.