Helping at-risk high school students set their sights on college

Karen Setzko

By Karen Setzko
Karen Setzko is a communications consultant for MassMutual.
Posted on Apr 1, 2021

When Chris Metkiff, a financial professional in MassMutual’s Greater Philadelphia and Delaware Office, started his practice, he didn’t have a natural market and needed people to call. He decided to reach out to nonprofit organizations about retirement planning and called on Delaware Futures, a nonprofit providing college readiness and persistence programs to at-risk high school students.

Asked to be a mentor, he bonded with mentees one at a time through a common interest in basketball, first becoming their friend and then their tutor. More importantly, he was an adult they looked up to.

Selling students on college is key

Recruiting students is a key part of the college prep process. It begins in middle school and continues with a dedicated mentor throughout high school. While grades and family income are considered in recruitment, an important aspect is the student’s outlook about future possibilities.

“For a lot of students, college isn’t even a thought,” Metkiff explained. “They struggle to keep up with demands of school, work, and home, and expectations of them might not be that high, so that’s where selling comes in.”

Delaware Futures provides academic support, internships, job-readiness training, college access support, experiential learning, cultural enrichment, and one-on-one mentoring to at-risk high school students, empowering them to develop a vision of their future and earn acceptance to college with full or partial tuition scholarships.

Glorious, a graduate of the program, put it simply: “Delaware Futures allowed me to get the assistance I needed to get into college. It has helped me in ways that schools can’t, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet the most amazing mentors who push me to try my best and always see the best in me even when I can’t see it in myself.”

A two-way street

Metkiff said getting students into college is about “helping them think bigger, about what they can do and be — to paint the picture of a future they may not ever have thought was realistic.”

While Delaware Futures students go to college with full or partial tuition scholarships, Metkiff acknowledges that acceptance to college is only the first hurdle; they also need to meet a grade average to keep their scholarships and grants.

“They need to be committed and understand how intense this can be and what the opportunity truly is — to work hard to stay in the program,” he said.

Coming full circle

Metkiff began his volunteer work with Delaware Futures 12 years ago. He served on the finance committee before becoming board vice president responsible for fundraising, community outreach, engaging funders and donors, recruiting board members, and keeping the mission on track.

The work has been gratifying, especially when he can point to successes.

“One of our students who went to college through this program now has a significant job in the area and sits on our board, so I’ve seen this program come full circle, and hopefully we’ll have more stories like this,” he said.

Grant to fund technology needs

Metkiff’s efforts earned him a 2020 Community Service Award from the MassMutual Foundation and a $10,000 grant for Delaware Futures.

With the onset of COVID-19, the program became all virtual, making technology needs paramount to provide remote training sessions and social-emotional support and tutoring. The grant will help purchase devices to keep staff, tutors, and students connected and grow a tech lending library of equipment to help students continue study sessions, hold group meetings, and apply for college and funding.

The MassMutual Foundation will award 32 CSA grants this year: two $25,000 Platinum Awards, 15 $10,000 Gold Awards, and 15 $5,000 Silver Awards. A total of $275,000 will be paid directly to eligible nonprofits in the name of the winning financial professionals.

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.