The disparity of resources and opportunities between those who cannot afford higher education and those who can is a defining issue of our time and our client, Dominium, is facing it head-on with their new scholarship program, Opportunity’s Front Door. Dominium is one of the nation’s largest affordable housing developers, owners and managers and the substantive scholarship program is available to their residents and employees and designed to help break down financial barriers and provide easier access to certification programs and higher learning. We spoke with Vice President of Public Affairs at Dominium, Paula Prahl, to get a better understanding of why this housing provider is focusing on education.
Tell us about the basics of the program.
The annual program has two parts: one is focused on residents and their dependents and the other is focused on employees and their dependents. Both programs are for annual grants of $5000 to support any kind of post-secondary learning—college, vocational and certificate programs are all eligible.
Where did the idea for the scholarship program come from? (or how was the need for the scholarship program identified?)
Dominium has a well-developed engagement strategy called Dominium Gives that includes charitable giving, pro-bono development, volunteerism and an employee emergency fund. In an effort to fine tune its work, the Foundation Board was thinking of ways provide additional focus to the charitable giving program. A member of Dominium’s Board of Directors, Ken Bacon, suggested that we look at how we help residents. We had already identified this as a research project, but direct help was new. That idea, coupled with the very real truth that opportunity is much scarcer than talent, led us to focus on providing educational opportunities to both our residents and our employees.
We hope to bridge some of the gap between talent and opportunity. All of our giving is now focused around opportunity. We provide funding and pro-bono development support to a number of housing organizations in recognition that housing is a very basic condition of opportunity—you can’t effectively take advantage of opportunities without a home. We are providing scholarships through this program and some additional support to very targeted educational programs as a means to link talent with opportunity. Finally, we are working to provide research funding to study how affordable housing can further help people reach their potential, hopefully leading to policy change that ensures more opportunity.
The program is called “Opportunity’s Front Door.” What does this mean to Dominium?
As an organization that is focused on developing housing, we are keenly aware of the importance of home. We value that we are able to provide homes to 35,000 families and individuals. With our focus on both bridging the gap between talent and opportunity as well as the housing we provide, the use of the “front door” image seemed to make sense. We hope that living in the affordable housing we develop provides the kind of stability that allows people to thrive; and we hope the scholarships add opportunity. Talent lives everywhere; Opportunity lives at Dominium.
As a housing provider, why is Dominium prioritizing education?
It’s simple: Education is one thing that is both necessary and sufficient. We provide housing and that is necessary but doesn’t by itself connect talent with opportunity. Education does.
What has the immediate response been like?
For a new program launching in a time of uncertainty, we are thrilled with the response…and a bit daunted. While the application process has just recently closed, we already have started applications that exceed our current capacity by a factor of five. The need and interest are large. We are excited to learn more about all the applicants and know that we will be able help so many.
Vice President of Public Affairs at Dominium, Paula Prahl