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KeyBank’s $1 million helps more kids attend college through Say Yes

The 2016 graduating class at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts piled into a room Wednesday filled with balloons, pom-poms and music to celebrate the announcement that $1 million was being added to the growing pot of money for city students to attend college.

The $1 million gift was from KeyBank to Say Yes Buffalo, the local affiliate of a national organization that offers full college scholarships to students.

This latest donation brings the scholarship fund to more than $25 million and brings Say Yes Buffalo one big step closer to its goal of $33 million, which would enable it to provide tuition scholarships for graduates of Buffalo public and charter schools through 2023.

For Chris Gandy, it means he’s headed to Houghton College. And for thousands of his peers across Buffalo, it has provided an incentive to do well in high school knowing they will be able to get a college education.

“Definitely,” said Gandy, a Performing Arts senior, “especially for those students who don’t have much or whose parents aren’t working.”

Annisa Glover-Briggs, another senior, doesn’t think she’d be able to afford college otherwise. Instead, she’s off to the Fashion Institute of Technology; her twin sister, Amber, is going to Alfred State College.

In fact, the percentage of Buffalo Public Schools graduates who went on to a two- or four-year college increased to 67 percent last year, up from 57 percent since Say Yes Buffalo began in 2012.

“It works,” said Margot James Copeland, executive vice president for corporate philanthropy at KeyBank.

KeyBank was one of the first supporters of Say Yes Buffalo when it invested $150,000 in the scholarship fund four years ago. The $1 million grant announced Wednesday is the single-largest philanthropic investment ever made by KeyBank Foundation outside of Cleveland, where it has its corporate headquarters.

Alphonso O’Neil-White, chairman of the Say Yes Buffalo Scholarship Board, thanked KeyBank for its investment in Buffalo’s students, the latest organization to do so.

Also Wednesday, KeyBank Foundation announced $205,000 in additional grants to serve low-to moderate-income communities. Recipients include the Buffalo Urban League, $25,000; Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, $15,000; the Old First Ward Community Center, $10,000; PUSH Buffalo, $50,000; Seneca-Babcock Community Association, $25,000; Seneca Street Community Development Corp., $10,000; United Way of Greater Niagara, $5,000; the Valley Community Association, $25,000; VOICE-Buffalo, $15,000; and the Western New York Law Center, $25,000.