In 1981, Eugene Lang, who had grown up poor in Harlem and later became a self-made millionaire, returned to his elementary school to deliver the commencement address to the sixth-grade class. During his speech, he decided to offer every child in the class the chance to go to college by paying their tuition. Over the next six years, he took a personal interest in their lives, encouraging their aspirations, and arranging tutoring and guidance for them. The school district had a 50% dropout rate. That year 98% of the class went to college.
Many people at the Ithaca Youth Bureau were inspired by this story. A volunteer in the Big Brothers Big Sisters One-to-One Program, Paul Schreurs, was so moved that he committed himself to pay his young friend’s college tuition. Unfortunately, Paul died in a tragic accident before he graduated from Cornell. Wanting to keep his dream alive, Paul’s family contacted the Youth Bureau and arranged to set up a fund to provide educational opportunities for youth who, without assistance, might be unable to pursue their education beyond high school.
It is Paul’s legacy that continues the Paul Schreurs Memorial Program (PSMP) today. Over the years we've offered summer academies, tours of colleges, trips, homework clubs, tutoring, enrichment activities. Community service was very important to Paul Schreurs and is a key component of the program. Providing service to the community allows the participants to see that they have something to offer the world. It also helps them see different perspectives and understand the experience of others in their local community.
Since the beginning of the program, we have had a strong relationship with the local colleges. Cornell University and Ithaca College have provided us with many tutors over the years. Often the college students have told us about what a difference this experience made in their lives. One of our many tutors from Cornell University, Svante Myrick, got connected to PSMP through a friend. After tutoring with the program while in college, Svante moved on to participate actively in local government. He spent four years on Common Council and is now in his second term as Mayor of the City of Ithaca. It is these connections with the community that strengthen the relationships students build and help them find belonging in their home away from home.