George A. Weiss, W'65
2009 Joseph Wharton Award for Social Impact
George A. Weiss, W'65|
Say Yes to Education
A Promise to Keep for Struggling Students
George A. Weiss didn't just fulfill his own ambitions as a successful money manager in Hartford, CT. Today, he is dedicated to using his fortune to help others succeed. As the hands—on founder of Say Yes to Education—a national, non-profit organization committed to dramatically increasing high school and college graduation rates for our nation's inner-city youth—Mr. Weiss is committed to providing significant, holistic support to at-risk children and their families. The organization has served or is serving 740 students and their families to date, and provides comprehensive supports enabling students to graduate from high school, accomplish post-secondary educational success, and achieve meaningful life goals, including giving back to their communities.
Raised in Brookline, MA, by parents who fled Austria during World War II, Weiss founded Say Yes to Education in 1987. Inspired by community service as a Wharton student, he made a promise to send 112 students 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—with Weiss sending nearly 250 students to college and trade school by 2004.
But Weiss isn't content to have the organization rest on its laurels. He has directed the program to change tactics as it has learned from the students who succeeded—and those who didn't. The range of supports Say Yes now offers its students includes everything from after-school and summer programming, mentoring, tutoring and school-day academic support to family outreach, development, health care, legal assistance, and social work/psychological services. Weiss also branched out to help young people in Hartford, CT, Cambridge, MA and, most recently, in Harlem, NY. He even has a toll-free number kids can call to talk to him directly about their problems.
Of the 112 children Weiss originally sponsored, 62 percent graduated from high school, compared to 26 and 28 percent graduation rates, respectively, for non-Say Yes students the year before and the year after (1992 and 1994). Because Weiss figures the group could have done better if he had interceded earlier (the Belmont program began in 7th grade), he also has changed the entry point to now begin when a child starts kindergarten. As the program has evolved and expanded, 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. Currently, Weiss is building on the program's success and working to create city and state-wide partnerships to assist thousands of our nation's inner-city youth. He has even brought aboard fellow Wharton alumnae, Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey (‘01), as Say Yes' president to help take the program to scale.
“Businessmen like to see results,” he once told Wharton Alumni Magazine. “My goal...is to help lots and lots of kids.”
Weiss's exceptional advocacy for increasing access to education extends to Penn, where he has created multiple scholarships over the years. A University Charter Trustee, he chairs the Committee on Undergraduate Financial Aid and is a member of the Athletics Board of Overseers.