On Point for College
Syracuse, New York
"You have a plan of action, then you just do it," Ginny Donohue says, recalling her career switch from teaching to the corporate world. In that world, Ginny was the first woman in every post she held. Such lessons in determination were not lost on her daughter. When a fellow high schooler complained about not having the resources to go to college, his young friend replied, "Sure you can go. My mother will find a way." And Ginny did.
Soon after, Ginny recalls, she helped "a couch kid-someone who couldn't live at home so just went from sleeping on one couch to another." After he got into college, two other kids approached her. "They were in a program for chronically homeless kids, and when I went to pick them up, a whole bunch of kids piled into my car."
They continued to pile in, and Ginny continued to work with them on an ad hoc basis until 1999, when she made another career switch-this time leaving a successful executive career to found On Point for College, a nonprofit organization in Syracuse that helps kids from low-income families go to college. The organization has since helped more than 1,000 inner-city youth go to state and community colleges, and an impressive list of private colleges and universities across the country.
From the start, Ginny understood that the challenge wasn't just about advocacy, admissions counseling, or helping kids with forms, but one of providing a supportive environment. On Point students are tutored in how to budget time, work in study groups, get along with roommates; they are provided with backpacks, alarm clocks, bedding, clothes, and all the other basic back-to-school supplies.
Often, it's just a little thing keeping them out of college. Ginny recalls a boy whose family members were political refugees from Togo. "He had lived in a camp for a year. St. Lawrence University wanted him-he was an excellent soccer player. But he needed to take the test for English as a Second Language, and he didn't have the $35. We did. That was all it took; he graduated in three years."
Each fall, every new student is visited on campus by On Point. Ninety-eight percent of them are the first person in their families to go to college. "A lot of their parents are living on the edge," Ginny explains. "The kids are used to doing without. If a student doesn't have a textbook, he might not tell us. So we visit them. We walk them to the financial-aid office, to the learning center. We make sure they have the books they need." And at the end of the year in May, the organization sponsors a job fair, because On Point students have few job contacts or networking opportunities.
Ginny's happiest moments come on college visits. "We'll be walking around the campus, and it hits them. You can see them thinking 'I could really come here.' Everything they could ever be in their lives has just shifted." Call it being on point for life.