Empowering Underserved Students: A 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation Collaboration With Common Impact and Unum Group

Mar 18, 2024 10:00 AM ET

Access to higher education can sometimes feel like a distant dream for underserved high school students, but Andrew H. Ragland, CEO and Founder of 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation, is changing that narrative. We met Andrew through a collaborative skills-based volunteering initiative with Unum Group, a leading workplace benefits and services provider. The skilled volunteering event was focused on helping Andrew strengthen his organization’s operational capacity.

Andrew’s unwavering dedication and impressive career trajectory left a lasting impression on us, sparking our interest to learn more about his organization. The 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation is a beacon of hope for minority students in the U.S. who are striving to reach their full potential. Andrew’s 25-year journey in education, primarily serving inner-city communities, has fueled his commitment to empowering under-resourced students poised to make their mark on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Watch 5 Strong featured on Atlanta News First to experience the impact of Andrew’s organization on two students!

With only two full-time staff members, 5 Strong has supported over 200 scholars per academic year across 14 partner HBCUs. However, to foster even greater growth and sustainability for the organization, 5 Strong had operational challenges to overcome.

In a recent skills-based volunteering project with Common Impact and Unum Group, Andrew was matched to a team of Unum Group volunteers to address the business challenges of 5 Strong, including client relationship management and value proposition. We spoke with Andrew to dive deeper into his organization and his experience receiving help from Unum Group’s skilled volunteers.

The 84% graduation rate of 5 Strong Scholars is impressive, surpassing the national average. What key elements contribute to this high success rate, and how does 5 Strong continue to improve and maintain these positive outcomes? 

Our success stems from our thorough, three-round interview and selection process, which ensures each scholar fits our program. Our focus is helping young adults who have been omitted or overlooked for scholarship opportunities who tend to be first-generation and inner-city kids. Once accepted into our program, we provide eight weeks of college-ready prep sessions to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to have a successful college career. Each school year, five students are matched to their preferred partner HBCU. We then work closely with the HBCU staff to help provide full-tuition scholarships, college readiness programs, monthly cohort meetings, and ongoing mentorship. The 5 Strong Staff and Beyond 12 College Coaches provide ongoing mentorship and support.

Four years later, we celebrate alongside each cohort as they graduate, marking a significant milestone in their academic journey. We recently got featured in the Atlanta News, where two scholars, Mario and Destiny, shared how our program helped them access the resources they needed to get into college and transformed them into more confident and capable individuals.

What is the biggest challenge your organization faces, and how do you overcome it?

The daily operations, from recruiting scholars to pursuing HBCU partnerships to tracking our scholars, is the easy part! The real challenge lies in ensuring the continuous flow of funding to sustain our initiatives year after year. To tackle this challenge, we secure funding in three primary ways. We apply for numerous grants annually, actively nurturing relationships with recurring donors who believe in our mission and organizing four annual fundraisers. These efforts are crucial in maintaining the momentum of our programs. We are grateful for the continued support from the Charles and Lynn Families Philanthropies, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and Unum Group.

While we celebrate our current achievements, we recognize the need for improvement, especially as we seek to expand our programs. We acknowledge the need to develop a strategic blueprint to cultivate new relationships with prospective donors and partners while managing those relationships effectively.

5 Strong recently participated in a skills-based volunteering event with Unum Group. Could you share details about the project you brought to the team of Unum Group volunteers? What concrete steps or outcomes emerged from this collaboration that you find particularly exciting? 

Recognizing the need to diversify our funding streams for sustainable growth, Unum Group volunteers guided us in communicating our value to potential corporate partners. Our objective is to strategically nurture these relationships and ensure the ongoing flow of funding we need to expand our reach across the United States.

Thanks to the skilled volunteer project with Common Impact, Unum Group, and Unum Group volunteers, we received a proposal letter and a strategic plan to nurture our relationship with donors. With these tools, we can eloquently articulate our mission, showcase our impact on HBCUs nationwide, and convey the immense value we bring to the communities we serve. These documents are helpful resources contributing to the success of funding our programs as we expand.

What are your goals for the future of 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation? 

We’re on a mission to grow our impact, which starts with growing our team! We aim to add at least two more staff members to our Atlanta and Houston locations. We are also super excited to open an office on the west coast and grow our HBCU partners in that region.

Expanding our team is a strategic initiative to bolster our capacity to support more students nationwide. We aim to provide high-quality programs and support for our staff and students while we expand. To achieve this ambitious goal, we recognize the importance of innovative approaches to funding. This is where skills-based volunteering with Unum Group and Common Impact has contributed to our efforts.

Consider supporting the 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation by donating. 

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