Politics & Government

Weeks before vote, campaign backer helps Mayor Roberts make good on 2015 promise

Mayor Roberts announces after-school program grant

A $1 million grant from The Gambrell Foundation will pay for after-school programs.
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A $1 million grant from The Gambrell Foundation will pay for after-school programs.

In what one educator called “a game changer,” Mayor Jennifer Roberts Tuesday announced a $1 million grant from The Gambrell Foundation for after-school programs.

Supporters said the grant will help provide after-school activities for more than 600 middle-school students this year. Roberts called the grant “a major milestone” in offering out-of-school-time activities to the area’s young people.

Ross Danis, president of MeckEd, a privately funded group, said the money will help close “the experience gap” for under-privileged students by connecting them with opportunities they would not otherwise have.

“We need to level the field,” he said.

The grant is the second major educational gift this year from The Gambrell Foundation. In May, it pledged $2.5 million to the independent Trinity Episcopal School in uptown to increase scholarships for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Sally Gambrell said she looks at the MeckEd grant as an investment.

“I am looking for ways to help shift the narrative around youth in our community,” she said.

Gambrell said the idea came out of a call she made to Roberts earlier this summer. Roberts has been a proponent of after-school programs and made it one of her campaign promises in 2015.

Gambrell, who hosted a fundraiser for the mayor last week, called the timing of the grant announcement coincidental. Early voting for the Sept. 12 mayoral primary starts Thursday.

Roberts also dismissed the notion that Tuesday’s announcement was political.

“When you have a two-year term, every single day is part of your campaign,” she said.

Last year Roberts proposed a “clearinghouse” organization to evaluate after-school programs. The proposal came after her “Mayor’s Summit on Out of School Time.”

Though the city plays a marginal role in public schools, which are funded by the state and county, Roberts had promised to work to strengthen public schools. The out-of-school organization was the most concrete proposal.

Danis, of MeckEd, was ecstatic about the grant.

“I thought the only rare thing that happened this week was the eclipse,” he said. “A million-dollar grant is perhaps more rare.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill