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1963 was noted for racial unrest and civil rights demonstrations. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. This same year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing killed four children at an African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama. Despite these turbulent times and civil unrest throughout the country, the seeds of our organization were planted. NEED’s founders, Florence Reizenstein and Marion Jones, began a temporary program through the Urban League Education Committee to garner funds for 76 black high school students who were accepted to attend a college or university, but were not financially able to do so. The two teamed up to write a letter to many influential individuals, appealing to them to help in this worthy cause. This act of goodwill and humanity proliferated into the organization’s current vision, and the number of students assisted has grown exponentially from those first 76 students to over 19,000. As time and ideologies changed, NEED has evolved into a nationally recognized college access program that is supported by the corporate, philanthropic and general communities.
NEED is the oldest community-based, nonprofit, minority, higher education assistance program in Pennsylvania. NEED’s vision is to unlock the power of education by helping youth meet their highest potential and enhance their quality of life, thereby strengthening the Pittsburgh regional economy. Throughout our history, we have worked to address this issue with our scholarship program; but the needs of young people today extend beyond the financial question. Students often need assistance in determining college or career choices. NEED has stepped in to offer this help and guidance. In an increasingly competitive world, we help students prepare for critical admission tests and provide support to increase retention and progress toward graduation.
Since our founding in 1963, NEED has supported over 19,000 deserving young people by providing nearly $20 million in grants. These grants help empower Pittsburgh’s next generation of leaders to overcome financial, class, cultural, and social barriers. In recent years, many college aid programs and government programs alike increased their aid to talented students based on merit, regardless of whether they actually needed financial help. This trend negatively impacted the poorest students who are need-based, by taking away dollars that could otherwise assist them financially. Therefore, NEED’s resources play an important role in encouraging access through financial and counseling assistance to those who are the neediest students. The average NEED recipient has an unmet need of $8,285. This past fiscal year we provided over 700 scholarships and grants to students.
Each year NEED must acquire philanthropic support totaling nearly $2 million. Approximately $1 million of those funds are used for scholarships, with the remaining going towards operations, counseling, and other direct services to economically disadvantaged African American high school students in southwestern Pennsylvania.
As we approach our 50th anniversary we are taking on an ambitious campaign: The Fund for the 50th. The Fund for the 50th will assist NEED in removing barriers to educational access and success for thousands of young African American men and women in southwestern Pennsylvania though a college access program, parent and student workshops, mentoring and retention programs, scholarships, and workforce development programs. The Fund for the 50th will enable us to effectively continue to respond to the changing needs of our young people.
Each year we require support to fund the overall scope of NEED through the annual campaign. The annual NEED campaign helps sustain our programming and services that are spread throughout the Pittsburgh region. It is through the programs and services that many students create their pathway to NEED, which further broadens their horizons. Looking ahead, we are constantly expanding and implementing our services to better suit the needs of our disadvantaged students.