By Cherri Gregg

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia Futures is a non-profit that links mentors with low income, first-generation-to-college students, but the group provides more than just moral support.

“We provide them with the tools, resources and opportunities they will need to be successful in college and in life,” says Joan Mazzotti, executive director. She says Philadelphia Futures provides a “do whatever it takes” approach by providing mentoring, workshops and financial support.

One example is its Sponsor-A-Scholar program where the organization identifies promising high-school students and then provides them with financial support, including money for college-related expenses.

“One-hundred percent of our students will graduate from high school, 98 percent go on to college,” says Mazzotti. “We have a graduation rate from college of about 70 percent.”

“Violence; I experienced all of that. I saw my friends get wrapped up in gangs,” says Joel Culbrealth, 20. He says he grew up in a rough part of West Philadelphia and was raised by his mom and grandma. He is now at Temple University. Even though he attends college on a full scholarship, there are financial burdens.

“You get a $500-600 stipend per semester and it’s very helpful,” says Culbreath. “It pays for expensive books and it really takes the burden off of my family. It allows me to focus on my classes and on getting tutoring.”

The sophomore is majoring in social work. He says his mentors helped him make the decision.

“Each and every one of them taught me to follow my heart and do something that I believe in,” he says.

Philadelphia attorney Robert White says the decision on whether to spend $7,500 to sponsor a scholar – with $6,000 going directly to the student – was an easy one.

“Seventy percent of these kids get college degrees,” says White, who has sponsored 11 students and mentored two. “You’re talking about a 70 percent performance return. I challenge you to find that kind of return anywhere else.”

But there’s also an emotional investment. He says he attends the graduations of each student he sponsors.

“It gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction,” says White. “These kids have overcome such obstacles to get so far.”

Culbreath says he appreciates the investment. He says he plans to graduate on time and then pay it forward.

“I feel an obligation to complete college in four to five years, not just for them, but also for myself,” he says. “Just as I was supported in my life I want to do those things for other people.”

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