Last month I found myself in downtown San Francisco attending events at top-notch hotels and rubbing elbows with nationally-recognized higher education investors and stakeholders, and it all began with a sleepless night in Amarillo.
It was one o’clock in the morning on February 20th. The first No Limits No Excuses (NLNE) quarterly meeting was exactly one week away, and a list of incomplete tasks and ideas for the event invaded my dreams. Unable to fight the thoughts circling my brain, I picked up my phone to look up a few statistics, determined to accomplish something rather than succumbing a frustrating night of staring at the clock.
That’s when the google search link caught my eye. The brief synopsis called for entries for a contest that would financially reward innovative programs focused on quality-credential attainments. An agency called The Lumina Foundation was sponsoring the contest. The prize: up to $50K. My interest piqued, I skimmed the contest rules, registered, and sent myself an email as a reminder of what I’d done.
The following two weeks, were filled with hosting the quarterly meeting, planning and executing four committee meetings and my oldest child’s birthday party, and preparing for a Spring Break road trip. There was a lot going on, so when a contest representative called to remind me to complete my entry, I was not only a little surprised, but also motivated to get it finished. The deadline was two days away, and the required forms resembled a grant application. I’ve never applied for a grant before, so I wasn’t at all sure that mine would be a successful entry.
A few weeks later, Lumina emailed me to let me know NLNE was one of six semi-finalists. We each participated in a live video-interview during which Lumina gave us 10 minutes to pitch our solutions and followed up with questions about our ideas.
After my pitch, which occurred on the last Friday of March, I told my husband that it was a fantastic experience, but I was certain that Lumina would not choose me as a finalist. The questions they asked lead me to believe they were looking for programs that would be quickly and easily scalable. The NLNE program is scalable, but it requires partnerships and community collaboration that don’t happen overnight.
You can imagine my surprise when I learned the following Monday at 5 p.m. that Lumina selected NLNE as a finalist!
Mid-April, Lumina flew the three final contestants to San Francisco to pitch our solutions to a group of 250 higher education investors and stakeholders. There were two prizes up for grabs: a $25K Audience Choice Award and a $25 Judge’s Choice Award. Any contestant who did not win one of those prizes would go home with a $5K Runner’s Up Award.
It’s a good thing I pitched first, because if I would have known more about the other two finalists before my presentation, I would have been a nervous wreck! The other two finalists were the largest community college in America and a for-profit company with clients at some of the most prestigious universities in the nation. Needless to say, I felt way out of my league. Amarillo College President Dr. Russell Lowry-Hart, thankfully, was there to offer some support and guidance, and NLNE Executive Committee members, as well as my peers at the Amarillo Area Foundation, were flooding me with emails and texts of encouragement.
While NLNE only earned the $5K award, the experience and connections I made at the event were priceless! You see, the Lumina Foundation has a goal to see 60 percent of Americans age 25-34 with a quality credential by the year 2025. They spend every day scouring the Country to find programs that will help them achieve their goal, and they saw definitive value in NLNE. They recognized the value of a village; of community partnerships; of collaboration between education and industry; and of a mobile app that surrounds every resident with the benefits of that village.
It’s time for you to see the value too. Will you help us build our village, or will you sit on the sidelines and hope somebody does something to improve our economy? NLNE cannot do it alone. It’s going to take all of us. We want every company of every size, every social service agency, every church, every school, and every individual to join our partnership. We’re asking for your commitment to our mission: to make the pathways to quality credentials accessible to every resident. We’re asking you to help us by encouraging employees, customers, clients, and students to embark on an education journey and earn a quality credential. And if you are inclined to help financially support NLNE, we could use your help! You can give online now by going to www.amarilloareafoundation.org/donate/ and choosing No Limits No Excuses in the drop-down menu.
See Leeann’s presentation here: