Leveling the Field - Broadening Horizons

Leveling the Field – Broadening Horizons

Saratoga Sponsor-A-Scholar 

 By Arthur Gonick

SARATOGA SPRINGS – “We plant trees. Trees of education. They grow broader and stronger with each generation.” 

Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar (SSAS) Executive Director Jim LaVigne is at once describing his organization’s mission, and his own family experience. “My father was the first in my family to go to college.”

The Saratoga Sponsor-A-Scholar Holiday party on Monday

Scholars, Advisors, and Sponsors gather against backdrop of colleges that visit Saratoga H.S.: Left to right: Matt Nelson, Demetri Swann, Adrianna Marcolin, Brandy Crary and Jim LaVigne.  Scholars, Advisors, and Sponsors gather against backdrop of colleges that visit Saratoga H.S.: Left to right: Matt Nelson, Demetri Swann, Adrianna Marcolin, Brandy Crary and Jim LaVigne.  

Jim’s father had a path to college that was relevant to the era. It is worth recounting as it applied to many of that “Greatest Generation,” now receding with the passage of time. “My father grew up three miles from the Canadian border. At age 17, the Pearl Harbor invasion occurred. Like many of that age, my father enlisted, and served throughout the Normandy invasion and the European Campaign,” he said.

Upon returning home, Jim’s father embraced the then-new GI Bill, which removed the economic barriers to college for returning soldiers, among other benefits. The results of this Bill on American Society at the time cannot be underestimated.

By leveling the economic playing field, it allowed countless citizens to broaden their horizons.

 And once planted - the seeds of education are more likely to propagate among the generations that follow. Bringing it back home, Jim recounts relevant stats – numbers that come from the heart – not some chart:

“My father was first,” Jim says. “This led to four in my generation. All went to college. The next generation it was up to 20 of his grandchildren.” The current generation, a ‘work in progress,’ already has 15 in higher education, and more to come. A broader, stronger tree.

In today’s world, society has moved away from many of these great social subsidies, perhaps for all time. It is up to modern not-for-profit 501(c) 3 corporations, and the community at large to fill in the gaps. And this is where SSAS, and its many supporters (take a glance at one of their “Thank you” ads if you doubt my word ‘many’) answer the call.

Ten years ago, Lew and Pat Titterton – current SSAS board members – approached Jim LaVigne with the idea. They had programs in existence in big markets like Philadelphia in existence to use as models, but they had to craft something that would work in this unique market.

SSAS’ many programs are an expensive undertaking – involving, according to SaratogaSponsorAScholar.org “…ten freshmen from the Saratoga Springs City School District each year… providing them with mentors, academic tutoring, PSAT and SAT training and other help with college preparation during their last three years of high school and yearly cash stipends in college.” 

Saratoga Springs High School Academic Advisors Brandy Crary and Matt Nelson know the numbers and the value. “It takes about $100,000 to run this program each year,” Matt said. But once invested, the results are life changing. “This is all about exposing a new world – first generations of college students, every year,” Brandy noted. Indeed, the sixth class graduated from the high school portion of the SSAS program in 2016, and all 54 graduates have been accepted into colleges!

 A current group of Scholars were guests of honor at a Holiday party at the high school on Monday, December 19. Later, we were lucky to meet three of these future leaders, and learned, among other things, how social service is an important cornerstone of SSAS.

Ms. Riley Sterling, a sophomore, would like to go to Skidmore College and study Special Education with an emphasis on language. “Spanish, and also sign language!” She said, brightly. “I was first exposed (to signing) in third grade with a classmate.” A JV volleyball player, Riley has participated in a recent toy drive for underprivileged children at Bravo Restaurant, and through SSAS, participated in a “Dare to Climb” conference. “It built up my personal confidence, particularly with public speaking,” she said.

Senior Adrianna Marcolin is awaiting an acceptance decision from Clarkson University, where she hopes to become a Civil Engineer. She and junior Demetri Swann (who hopes to decide between Sacred Heart and Syracuse University next year to study physical therapy) have worked together as volunteers on a few recent community service projects as part of SSAS. They include The Great Pumpkin Challenge to benefit Saratoga Bridges (where they did a variety of tasks from holding signs to dispensing water bottles and cheering on the runners), and Giving Circle’s home accessibility project. “It was like an episode of ‘Extreme Makeover!’ Adrianna opined.

Demetri, a two-way Varsity football squad member (C-DL, #79 in your program) was recommended to SSAS by his science teacher and Matt Nelson, who was also Demetri’s freshman coach. He noted poignantly about the experience participating in the Giving Circle project:

“The way we impacted one family’s life was so inspiring and motivating,” he said.

Everyone loves a feel-good story at Holiday time.

Thanks to Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar, you just read several. With many more still to be written.

Arthur Gonick’s parents, each the first in their family to go to college, were beneficiaries of free tuition at City College of New York, where they met and were later married. Their three children are all college graduates. As far as grandchildren, one has graduated, one is enrolled and one is researching targets to visit next year.


Saratoga-Sponsor-A-Scholar has both donation and mentoring opportunities. You or your organization may donate at any level. Also, donations outside of sponsorships may be applied to administrative and program expenses. For instance, a $100 gift can provide a graphing calculator. A $1,000 gift can help support a tutoring program.

No gift is too small – All gifts make a difference locally.

For more information visit http://saratogasponsorascholar.org



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