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Give Something Back visits ISU to celebrate 20 years of sending students to college

Give Something Back held a gathering at the Aaron Leetch Stadium Club at Hancock Stadium Saturday to celebrate its 20-year anniversary.
Jack Podlesnik / WGLT
Give Something Back held a gathering Saturday at the Aaron Leetch Stadium Club at Hancock Stadium to celebrate its 20-year anniversary.

It’s been two decades since Robert Carr founded Give Something Back. Since then, more than $40 million worth of scholarships has been given to more than 2,000 students.

The nonprofit foundation held a celebratory gathering Saturday at the Aaron Leetch Stadium Club at Hancock Stadium to tell the story of Give Something Back and to recognize scholarship winners.

Give Something Backawards struggling eighth- and ninth-grade students scholarships to send them to college or trade school. Carr, the founder and CEO, said the idea came from when he first received his own scholarship at Lockport Township High School near Chicago.

That planted the seed. He wanted to give back.

“It was a $250 scholarship that meant a lot to me. I got a plaque, I got my picture on the front page of the newspaper. And I just thought it was terrific that some organization that I didn’t know anything about would give me a scholarship like that,” said Carr.

When Carr had the money, he gave $5,000 back. And it kept going from there.

After founding Give Something Back, Carr chose eighth- and ninth-graders to recruit for scholarships because he felt waiting any longer would be too late.

“We want to help these kids who are unlikely to go to college or trade school. It’s too late when they’re juniors or seniors, so we try to help the students who have the most need through things that happened to them that they had no control over, such as having an incarcerated parent, such as being homeless, such as being in foster care,” said Carr.

“If we wait until they’re juniors or seniors in high school, there’s not enough time to get them up to speed to where they’re ready for college or trade school.”

Give Something Back works in seven states, including Illinois. And they’re partnered with about 30 colleges and universities, including Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. UIUC is Carr’s alma mater.

ISU sophomore Samantha Aguilera is a recipient of a Give Something Back scholarship. She said getting the scholarship and going to college changed her life.

“This foundation has given me the opportunity to become that person I’ve always dreamed of becoming, someone who can make a change,” said Aguilera. “It’s not every day a real life miracle happens to you.”

The amount of a scholarship is decided on a case-by-case basis, said Carr. Give Something Back also helps with class planning in high school.

The money for scholarships comes primarily from Carr himself. Other funding is through private donations and grants from state and federal governments.

A 2019 study by the National Center for Education Statistics shows 41% of college students graduate within four years of starting their education. Carr said 86% of Give Something Back scholars do.

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Local News NonprofitHancock StadiumIllinois State University
Jack Podlesnik is a student reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
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