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Keasya Hudgins credits her childhood imagination for inspiring her to want to further her education. Neither of her parents went beyond high school, but seeing what college had to offer in books, television and movies ignited her dreams for what was possible. 

During her time attending Nottingham High School in Syracuse, Keasya accomplished all the things that colleges look for — she earned good grades and participated in numerous extracurricular activities. But without the financial means to pay for a higher education or acquire a student loan, her options were slim. That is where Say Yes to Education stepped in. Say Yes staff provided guidance on how to prepare for, choose and apply to college. The program was available to pay for the cost of her schooling after additional scholarships and financial aid were applied. 

In the end, Keasya utilized Say Yes scholarship funding to study hospitality management, receiving an associate’s degree from Onondaga Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Buffalo State College. She credits not only the academic learning environment but also her experiences on a college campus — surrounded by diverse cultures and backgrounds — for shaping her into who she is today. She now runs her own event planning business in New York City called justKayEvents. Her slogan, “Visionaries Only,” is a fitting tribute to her drive to succeed.

Say Yes to Education was designed to assist students just like Keasya: driven to succeed and motivated to go beyond what they have known, but in need of opportunities to help them get there. The program, which provides academic, health and family support services in addition to college scholarships, is built on the principle that all children can achieve academic success if the barriers they face are addressed.

In the end, Keasya credits the community’s support of Say Yes for her current success. 

“If it hadn’t been for Say Yes, I would probably be struggling — still in college while trying to pay for it,” she said. “People look at me and think I have it all together, but I really wouldn’t have, if it hadn’t been for the assistance I received from programs like Say Yes. It is really important to remember where you came from and I am so appreciative of this community for helping make me what I am today.”

Since Say Yes to Education was first introduced in the City of Syracuse seven years ago, the initiative has served as an opportunity for the community to collaborate on the common goal of increasing post-secondary educational attainment for our city’s children. Half of Syracuse students currently live in poverty.

The Syracuse College Promise is at the center of the Say Yes model. The Promise guarantees a path to college, in the form of last-dollar scholarships, for students of the Syracuse City School District. Additional supports are implemented in the schools for students and their families to enhance opportunities for academic achievement — from legal and health services to mental health support and after-school programs.

The Community Foundation has supported Say Yes with $2 million in funding as well as convening support, fiscal management and strategic guidance. This spring, the community’s effort around Say Yes was bolstered by substantial grants from the City of Syracuse and Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, completing the $30 million goal needed to endow the Say Yes Scholarship Endowment Fund. This will guarantee a path to college for generations of Syracuse city children, regardless of income.

Say Yes helps to address one of the most fundamental challenges of our time — creating opportunities for vulnerable youth and families. The Community Foundation is thrilled to be a part of this landmark achievement for the benefit of our city’s future generations.