For its first two decades, Say Yes worked with cohorts of children, all from low-income and other backgrounds historically underrepresented on the nation’s college and university campuses. The chapters ranged in size from about 100 to 300, in cities and states where Mr. Weiss had a personal connection.
These included Philadelphia (Mr. Weiss is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania); Cambridge, Mass. (he was raised outside of Boston); Hartford, Conn. (the original site of his money management business, and where he still maintains offices) and Harlem in New York City (Mr. Weiss’s firm, Weiss Multi-Strategies, has offices in Manhattan.)
In each of the original Say Yes cohort chapters, students graduated high school — and college — at rates exceeding those of students from similar backgrounds in the public school district as a whole.
Encouraged by these results but seeking ways to take the Say Yes idea to scale, the Say Yes board, led by Mr. Weiss as its chairman, hired Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey as the organization’s president in 2006. A veteran of the school reform movement who worked in the U.S. Department of Education during the administration of President Bill Clinton, Ms. Schmitt-Carey led the process of developing ways to extend Say Yes services and scholarships across an entire community. She soon hired Gene Chasin, a former classroom teacher, principal and superintendent — and the former CEO of one of the largest school reform efforts in the country — to be Say Yes’ chief operating officer.
The first Say Yes city-wide chapter was piloted in the upstate New York city of Syracuse, beginning in 2008. The second followed four years later, in Buffalo, New York’s second largest city. During the 2014-15 school year, Say Yes services were available to nearly 65,000 children. More than 13,000 students have gone off to college with the support of Say Yes, most since 2013.
Say Yes announced its third community chapter on Sept. 17, 2015, in Guilford County, North Carolina, which includes the cities of Greensboro and High Point and serves 72,000 students in the county school district. It is a district larger than those in Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. In January 2019, the organization launched its fourth communitywide chapter, in Cleveland, Ohio. With the addition of Cleveland, Say Yes scholarships and supports will soon be available to more than 170,000 public school students.