GEORGE A. WEISS didn’t just fulfill his own ambitions as a successful money manager in Hartford, CT. As founder of Say Yes to Education—a national nonprofit organization committed to dramatically increasing high school and college graduation rates for our nation’s inner-city youth—he uses his fortune to help others succeed. The organization has served 740 at-risk students and their families. Weiss founded Say Yes to Education in 1987 when he made a promise to send 112 seventh-graders from Philly’s Belmont School to college if they graduated from high school. Since then, his program has created public and private partnerships with other philanthropic institutions, local school districts, and universities such as Penn.
Weiss has directed the program to change tactics as it has learned from the students who succeeded—and those who didn’t. Say Yes now offers after-school and summer programming, mentoring, tutoring and school-day academic support, family outreach, and other services. He even has a toll-free number kids can call to talk to him directly. Weiss also branched out to help young people in Hartford, CT, Cambridge, MA, and, most recently, in Harlem, NY, and is working to create more city and state-wide partnerships to assist thousands of our nation’s inner-city youth.
Of the 112 children Weiss originally sponsored, 62 percent graduated from high school—more than twice the expected rate for the school. Because Weiss figures the group could have done better with earlier intervention, the program now begins in kindergarten. As the program has evolved, it has consistently improved its results, with average high school graduation rates now exceeding 78 percent and enrollment and/or graduation at the post-secondary level exceeding 52 percent.
“Businessmen like to see results,” he has said. “My goal is to help lots and lots of kids.” Weiss’s advocacy for increasing access to education extends to Penn, where he has created multiple scholarships over the years. A Penn Trustee, he chairs the Committee on Undergraduate Financial Aid and is a member of the Athletics Board of Overseers.