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This story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
“Basic Jewish upbringing.” That’s what made Sony Pictures motion picture group chairman Tom Rothman, 60, a supporter of the Fulfillment Fund. “The Jews believe if you get an education, anything is possible,” he says.
The Fund has tackled an institution that needs believers: the Los Angeles Unified School District. With a $6.3 billion annual budget, the district spends roughly $10,000 per year on each of its 655,494 students — but only about two-thirds graduate from high school and only half of those grads go on to college. To help turn those numbers around, the Fulfillment Fund, which has an annual budget of $5 million, offers guidance and mentoring to 2,500 L.A. high school students annually, an effort that doubles their likelihood of going to college, says Fund CEO Kenny Rogers, 50, and increases by a factor of six the odds of them getting a degree. The price tag: roughly $2,000 per student. “It’s an incredible bargain when you look at the results compared to the costs,” says Mark Gordon, 58, a producer on the upcoming Steve Jobs and a longtime education advocate (the founder of Citizens of the World Charter Schools, he will be honored at the Fund’s STARS dinner Oct. 14; Rothman was the gala’s 2006 honoree).
The Fund was started in 1977 by Dr. Gary Gitnick, 76, and his wife, Cherna. He had moved to L.A. from Nebraska to teach medicine at UCLA, where he’s now chief of the division of digestive diseases at the university’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “The problem then as now is society was fighting violence by building jails instead of schools,” says Gitnick. “Violence is the result of poverty, and the only way to fight poverty is with education.” Says Rothman, “What the Fund has is stick-with-it-ness. They keep at it year after year. Change is hard to come by. But if you stay with it, then amazing things can happen.”
Nine out of 10 students in the Fund’s program — which includes trips to colleges, financial aid advice, SAT prep and $500,000 in direct financial aid, plus assistance in qualifying for $4 million in outside scholarships — go on to college. “My parents came from Mexico and worked seven days a week,” says program alum Marco Hernandez, 21, now studying at Cal State Northridge. “I remember in high school when the counselor asked who wants to go to college, and I had no idea what college was. What the Fund did was open my eyes to a different world.”
Read more from THR’s philanthropy issue below.
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