LOCKPORT – Around the time former Homer Township resident Robert O. “Bob” Carr graduated from Lockport Township High School in 1963, he received a $250 scholarship and a plaque from the Lockport Woman’s Club.
“It was nice, but it wasn’t enough to get me through college,” said Carr, now chief executive officer of Heartland Payment Systems in New Jersey. “But the recognition and the fact that they thought enough of me to give me that scholarship meant a lot to me.”
Carr decided he would give back to that organization in a significant way when he could afford to do so, which he did in 2001, by donating $100,000 to the Lockport Woman’s Club for five $20,000 scholarships.
Today, the Give Something Back Foundation is an organized program that provides 50 annual $20,000 scholarships, connects the low-income recipients with community mentors and keeps alumni in touch with each other.
“I have been very fortunate in my career – the last 15 years especially – and I see a lot of people who are millionaires and billionaires and I think of all the things you can do with a lot of money,” Carr said. “The best thing I knew what to do with $20,000 was to put it to college. It changes their [students] lives and the lives of their parents, siblings and the community. It shows you can be successful. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying.”
Success did not come readily or easily to Carr. His first job, while a student at Lockport Township High School, was writing three stories a week about LTHS sports for The Herald-News.
It was, Carr said, the most satisfying job he ever had, but not satisfying enough for a lifelong career.
“I had big plans and I didn’t think being a sports writer was meaningful enough,” Carr said. “I wanted to make a lot of money and change the world.”
So Carr attended the University of Illinois on a tuition scholarship because his family had financially qualified and because he had scored in the high 20s on his ACT. Back then, tuition was $135 a semester, no matter how many classes one took, Carr said.
To pay for his room and board, Carr worked 25 hours a week in food service for 90 cents an hour. He graduated in three years with a computer science degree – a new field at the time, Carr said – and earned his master’s degree in the fourth.
Two years into his college education, Carr got married. During his fourth year, Carr managed a local fast food restaurant and made $2 an hour.
“It wasn’t hard,” Carr said of the experience of working his way through school, “but it would be absolutely impossible today.”
In fact, Carr added, he never made any significant amount of money until he reached his early 50s and sold half of his company for $40 million in 2001.
“In one day, I went from just surviving to being filthy rich,” Carr said, “And that was when I sent an unsolicited donation to the Lockport Woman’s Club for $5,000.”
Carr said he received a letter back from the president who said, “Bob, you don’t remember me, but you used to be the safety guard when my girls were going to school.” Carr assured the president that he did remember. Carr then received an invitation to attend the Lockport Woman’s Club annual meeting.
“When I got there,” Carr said, “I learned it was their annual anniversary. So I decided to raise it [donation] to $100,000 ... The program has changed over the years. So far, I’ve invested $22 million in scholarships.”
The program the Give Something Back Foundation offers is an exciting one, Carr said. To qualify, students must come from low-income families in Will County and plan to attend the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Lewis University in Romeoville or Blackburn College in Carlinville.
Last spring, 54 ninth-graders were selected to participate in the program, Carr said. Studies, he added, suggest low-income youth entering high school need a vision that college is possible, otherwise they may drop out, assuming they will never attain success.
If accepted, students agree to maintain a B average and give permission for the foundation to watch their grades, Carr said. Students also must attend foundation events, be free of drug or discipline problems, and work with an assigned mentor. In college, students must attend full time and average higher than a C, Carr said.
“Ninety-two percent of our kids graduate in four years,” Carr said. Unfortunately, the foundation does lose one of every eight kids at the high school level, he added.
“Some kids come from tough family situations. Others move away. Every day, we talk how to remedy it.”
IF YOU GO
Information sessions to learn more about the Give Something Back Foundation scholarships have been scheduled for the following dates and times
• Sept. 22 – 6 p.m. Lincoln-Way Central High School, 1801 E. Lincoln Hwy. New Lenox
• Sept. 22 – 7:30 p.m. Crete Monee High School, 1515 W. Exchange St. Crete
• Sept. 23 – 6 p.m. Bolingbrook High School, 365 Raider Way, Bolingbrook
• Sept. 23 – 7:30 p.m. Lockport Central High School, 1222 Jefferson St., Lockport
• Sept. 24 – 6 p.m. Plainfield Central High School, 24120 Fort Beggs Dr. Plainfield
• Sept. 24 – 7:30 p.m. Reed Custer High School, 249 Comet Dr. Braidwood
Students from these Will County high schools are eligible to participate in the GSBF program: Beecher High School, Bolingbrook High School, Crete-Monee High School, Joliet Catholic Academy, Joliet Central High School, Joliet West High School, Lincoln-Way Central High School, Lincoln-Way East High School, Lincoln-Way North High School, Lincoln-Way West High School, Lockport Township High School, Neuqua Valley High School, Peotone High School, Plainfield Central High School, Plainfield East High School, Plainfield North High School, Plainfield South High School, Providence Catholic High School, Reed-Custer High School, Romeoville High School and Wilmington High School.
For more information, visit, www.givesomethingbackfoundation.org