Virginia (Ginny) Donohue is a social entrepreneur—based in Syracuse, New York—who is using her experience and passion to impact one of the U.S.’s biggest urban challenges—ensuring that inner-city youth have the opportunity to enroll in and succeed at college. A former executive, Donohue left behind a corporate career to create the nonprofit On Point for College, which makes higher education accessible to low-income high school students. Donohue has helped more than 5,500 first-generation low-income high school students get into college. She says that nearly a third of On Point's clients—many of whom are refugees with language and cultural barriers—have no parents in their lives, and several others have parents who support their children, but lack the know-how to navigate the college application and U.S. financial aid process.
The organization meets with the young adults in 15 community centers in Syracuse and seven in Utica and helps them choose colleges, go on college visits, and prepare financial aid applications. Further, On Point mentors them all the way through their two- or four-year college programs. On Point clients are now attending roughly 80 different colleges in NY State. “If nobody in your family ever went to college before you, then you kind of don't have the playbook, so we're trying to give people the playbook so they're successful when they go," Donohue says.
On Point follows each student through college—checking up frequently to make sure they stay on track. For the first three weeks of each semester, the agency shuts down its other programs and focuses on visiting its clients at 80 colleges to enure they are set with their books, meal plans, and other necessities.
Donohue's work is innovative and entrepreneurial and fosters significant social change in many communities. Donohue reflects on her initial efforts to start the company:
“In 1999, I quit my corporate job and founded On Point for College to help low-income young adults—refugees, homeless youth, kids who aged out of foster care—go to college. For 18 months, I worked out of the trunk of my car. Because of my CFO experience I knew how to set up a new company, diversify sources of funding, budget, supervise employees, negotiate, and plan.
“That first year I helped 26 kids enroll in college. Today our 27 employees and 160 volunteers counsel 6,000 youth every year. … In the last year alone, our mentors drove students 190,000 miles to and from college. We’ve helped over 5,500 students enroll in 219 colleges. Over 1,000 have graduated. They’re architects, lawyers, doctors, firefighters, teachers, bankers, nurses, accountants and counselors. Our program has been replicated in 10 community centers in New York City and Utica. I used my savings to launch On Point for College when I left my corporate job 16 years ago. But the joy I feel today when someone walks across the stage to get their diploma is easily worth a million dollars.”
Virginia Donohue embodies how one person can help change the world.