Cone Health Foundation pledges $1 million to Say Yes to Education initiative

With a $1-million grant, Cone Health Foundation is showing its strong support of efforts to bring Say Yes to Education to Guilford County, The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro announced today.

“The decision for Cone Health Foundation to participate in the Say Yes to Education campaign was an easy one for our board,” said Susan Shumaker, president of Cone Health Foundation. “While we don’t traditionally fund education, our board understands the well-known and persistent link between health and educational attainment. Research says that people with more education are likely to live longer, to experience better health outcomes, and to practice health-promoting behaviors such as exercising regularly, refraining from smoking, and obtaining timely health care check-ups and screenings.  All of which are important for our Foundation as we think about population health.”

A local Say Yes program would provide all eligible graduates of the Guilford County Schools system a last-dollar tuition scholarship for post-secondary education. Supporters say this would result in far-ranging, positive effects on the community, including a more educated labor force, incentives for businesses to start or relocate into the area, a stronger tax base, increased property values and more.

“Supporting young people to continue their post-secondary education just simply makes good sense for our community – not only for a brighter economic future, but for a healthier one, as well,” Shumaker pointed out.

Fundraisers throughout the county are closing in on initial goals that have to be achieved for Say Yes to Education to officially select Guilford as its next community. Say Yes scholarships to public universities are supported by the monies generated from an endowment fund – and to fully support the student base of the Guilford County Schools system, it is estimated that $70 million must ultimately be raised for the endowment.

“The fundraising efforts for Say Yes are going very, very well,” said Gordon D. Soenksen, chief development officer at The Community Foundation. “The proof is in the numbers, which are impressive and derived from commitments made throughout all of Guilford County. Cone Health Foundation has risen to the challenge, and we appreciate their support and commitment.”

All pledges are contingent on Say Yes officially choosing Guilford as its next community partner. To date:

  • Phillips Foundation: $5 million
  • The Edward M. Armfield, Sr. Foundation: Up to $5 million
  • Earl and Kitty Congdon family, High Point: $2 million
  • Anonymous family in High Point: $2 million
  • VF Corporation: $2 million
  • United Guaranty Corporation: $1 million
  • Cone Health Foundation: $1 million
  • Weaver Foundation: $1.25 million
  • Rob and Susan Culp family, High Point: $1 million
  • Anonymous individual in High Point: $1 million
  • The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro: $1 million

In May, the board of directors of the national Say Yes to Education organization met and was reported to be pleased with Guilford County’s progress, said Nora K. Carr, chief of staff of Guilford County Schools.


In early 2014, Guilford County Schools and the Guilford Education Alliance – with the support and assistance of The Community Foundation and the High Point Community Foundation – launched an exploration of a potential partnership with Say Yes to Education.

Say Yes to Education informed Guilford County in January that it is the leading candidate to be the nation’s next Say Yes community. The national organization hopes to make a final decision about Guilford by fall.

Say Yes to Education is the vision of successful money manager George Weiss of New York, who promised 120 rising seventh graders in Philadelphia that when they graduated from high school, he would pay for their college educations. Weiss repeated this promise with four more large groups of students before launching Say Yes to Education, a national nonprofit organization, in 1987. Today, Say Yes college scholarships and services are available to more than 65,000 public school students, most of whom live in New York State.

What makes the Say Yes program unique is that it is not simply about providing last-dollar tuition scholarships. The national Say Yes organization also would invest $15 million to provide seed funding for supports to help students in the Guilford County Schools system succeed in school, starting with the youngest students and ending only after they reach their goal of college graduation. In other Say Yes communities, supports include tutoring, after-school programs, summer programs, medical care, counseling and legal help. Guilford County would decide what local supports are needed here, not the Say Yes organization.

Say Yes also invests in seed and expansion funding, capacity and technology. The national organization provides significant staff resources to put together long-term financial plans so that the work its partner communities engage in is sustainable. Its $15 million would be invested here over three to five years. After that, Say Yes would provide modest funding to cover the cost of a small coordinating staff on an ongoing basis.

Say Yes to Education already has invested more than $1 million in Guilford to conduct feasibility studies, share its vision and to create some basic structure for moving forward. The Say Yes team has visited area schools and met with diverse stakeholders from across the community to explore what it would mean to bring Say Yes here. This includes parents, students, teachers, nonprofits, business leaders, faith leaders, college and university administrators, and local government officials.

People can follow Guilford’s Say Yes efforts at and on Facebook at