Richmond Promise marks major milestones in 2020 despite pandemic

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By Kathy Chouteau

A promise made is a promise kept. Amid a challenging year that drastically changed academic landscapes across the country, the Richmond Promise welcomed its largest class of scholars ever.

In total, 503 new Richmond and North Richmond students joined the organization’s scholar network of 1,500 scholars across 100-plus college campuses nationwide, according to Richmond Promise Executive Director Jessie Stewart. 

The Richmond Promise’s mission is to build a college graduating culture in Richmond. The program provides a $1,500 annual scholarship that is renewable for up to four years to high school seniors in Richmond pursuing degrees at a two-year or four-year college, or a Career Technical Education Certificate at any not-for-profit institution in the U.S.  The Richmond Promise was created 2015 from a $35 million, 10-year investment by Chevron Richmond.

The Richmond Promise goes well beyond scholarships in its support, with an array of programs that inspire students as young as middle school to pursue higher education, assists high school seniors in completing their financial aid forms, helps incoming college students acclimate to their new environment and continues to serve in a guidance role for students all the way until they graduate college.

While the pandemic has temporarily ceased in-person interactions with students, the Richmond Promise swiftly moved to virtual support and managed to boast important gains in 2020. During the summer transition, scholars received virtual one-on-one coaching, workshops and near-peer support.

This past year, Richmond Promise saw double digit increases in financial aid completion through its Near Peer, classroom-based approach with West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD).

“At our two partner schools, Kennedy High School and DeAnza High School, we saw double-digit gains in completion over two years and almost 10 percent higher than the California average,” said Stewart, who plans to build on this momentum in the New Year.

Richmond Promise also met the pandemic head-on by launching two funds aimed at meeting its current college scholars’ immediate needs: a basic needs fund and a digital divide fund, which together raised $135,000 in direct support for over 500 students, per Stewart.

“Moving forward, we aim to sustain this vital pillar of emergency support through the establishment of a long-term Scholar Emergency Fund,” she said.

The organization also helped develop its scholars’ identities, sense of belonging and confidence during 2020, in part, by hiring a number of them for its Near Peer & Summer Associates Program

“This program provides professional development and employment for current college students and ensures that future scholars are exposed to college-going role models at a young age,” said Stewart.

To date, the Richmond Promise has employed more than 80 scholars, significantly bolstering the number of financial aid applications completed and also assisting high schoolers with a successful college transition.

The organization was also accepted to the National League of Cities Community of Practice to address post-secondary students’ basic needs as part of a Richmond team including the City of Richmond, Contra Costa College and various U.S. cities. Per Stewart, it’s “an exciting and timely opportunity to deepen our partnerships around this critical area of need.” 

Another part of Richmond Promise’s evolution this year included planning for its own future by drafting its next three-year strategic plan. Check out the 2021-24 Strategic Action Plan here.

To read Richmond Promise’s 2019-2020 annual progress report, click here. To support Richmond Promise’s Scholar Emergency Fund assisting local college-going students’ immediate needs, click here.