JKCF Featured in Loudoun Times-Mirror

Education reporter Anna Harris profiles the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and its work with talented, low-income students in today’s Loudoun Times-Mirror.

“Many people are born gifted. Few are exceptional later in life,” says Executive Director Harold O. Levy, an issue the Foundation works to change because of our belief that high-potential, low-income students will excel educationally when given the resources to develop their talents.

The Foundation supports exceptional students from elementary school to graduate school through scholarships, grants, direct service, and knowledge creation and dissemination. Since inception in 2000, the Foundation has awarded $125 million in scholarships to exceptional students and $79 million in grants to organization that supports our mission.

Read the full article below or visit the Loudoun Times-Mirror site.

Harold Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, wore round, neon-blue glasses and sat at his desk’s dual-monitors playing a YouTube video featuring piano prodigy Oscar Paz-Suaznabar from Alexandria.

He’s only 8-year-old, said Levy.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is an organization headquartered in Leesburg that essentially invests in talented students from around the U.S. from low-income families.

The pianist is a recipient of “From the Top‘s” Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award.

The man in control of the mouse, Levy, came on board with the Foundation on Sept. 1.

“The staff [at Jack Kent Cooke] are incredible,” said Levy. “The quality of the work is off the charts. This institution is a world leader in its field, much more so than anyone might expect given its very much under the radar kind of status.”

In his previous careers working in the education sector, Levy believed high-achieving high schoolers could take care of themselves. He came to realize this belief is not always the case.

“These kids are fragile,” he said. “If you come from a low income family and you are a high performer, you still don’t have the same life chances as a kid who comes from middle class or wealth.”

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation looks to help students who lack a supportive environment, whether financially or emotionally, and give them the resources they lack to further their educations and develop their talents.

“There’s often nobody who understands their needs,” said Levy. “So if a kid needs a computer, we get them a computer, if a kid wants to play the piano, we get them a piano. We try and do all the things that a wealthy parent would confer and that by luck of birth they didn’t have. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of doing extraordinary things.”

Since it was established in 2000 through the estate of self-made billionaire Jack Kent Cooke, former owner of the Washington Redskins and the Los Angeles Lakers, the organization has awarded $125 million in scholarships to 1,800 students.

It has also given $79 million in grants to organizations that line up with JKCF’s mission.

One such grant is the Good Neighbor Grant Program, which is only eligible to nonprofits in the D.C. metro area, Maryland and Virginia that have a focus on educating students.

The program offers one-time grants of up to $35,000.

“It’s an opportunity for organizations that are smaller than ours or that have a broader mission than ours [to get funding]…but who don’t qualify for larger grants,” said Natalie Jansorn, director of Grants and Higher Education Programs with JKCF.

As uplifting as helping students find their potential is, the challenges of reaching out to those students is difficult, according to the foundation. Many of these students come from homeless shelters, foster homes or homes with many children, so the foundation’s visibility for these kids is limited.

How they find these children is a challenge that is connected to the second big hurdle — building a reputation.

While the Foundation doesn’t lack in its list of accomplishment or in the impressive students who earn the awards, JKCF is far from being as well-known as the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest international scholarships in the world.

In an effort to build its reputation, JKCF is fine tuning it’s current programs and putting their focus on areas that are often overlooked, like the gaming and digital community by making themselves more attractive to those groups through the resources they provide.

Ultimately, the foundation’s mission is one of fostering potential which might otherwise go untapped.

Without the encouragement or the assets to pursue their talents, these students often don’t reach their potential.

“Many people are born gifted. Few people are exceptional in later life,” he said. “There are lots of people who have talent. It’s an issue of development and of pulling that out of them and stretching them…People who are so called geniuses , it’s often in virtue of someone sitting there and encouraging, cajoling, being a martinet, it runs the gamut.”