Sometimes municipal finance executives make a contribution and no one calls it "pay to play." There are no scandals, no one investigates, and no one passes a rule against it.
Welcome to the Believe In Me Foundation.
It is nonprofit, charitable organization founded in 1993 to provide financial and other types of assistance for students in and around New York City who want to go to college.
The foundation got its name form its first recipient, Gregory Drozdek, now a student at Johns Hopkins University and also one of the foundation's six scholarship winners in 1994. Drozdek, who left home at age 14, was homeless for a time, and survived by doing odd jobs, once told a college admissions dean: "All I want is a chance. Believe in me enough to get me out of where I am."
The words showed up in a newspaper article about Drozdek, where they caught the attention of Michael Cirasella, managing director of municipal underwriting at CS First Boston.
Cirasella showed the article to a friend and fellow municipal finance professional, Stanley Ciemniecki, managing director of the national underwriting syndicate desk at Lehman Brothers.
The two met with Drozdek, who had temporarily left college and was working to pay off his debts.
"When you read the story, it's like, ~Can this be true?'" Cirasella said. "So we were looking for the holes, looking for the con job."
But "if he was looking for anything, it was a better job," Cirasella said.
From that meeting grew the Believe In Me Foundation, with Cirasella as president and Ciemniecki as vice president. The foundation's aim is to finance Greg's education and to help other students follow the same path.
Unlike many programs, the foundation makes a four-year commitment to aid recipients. Youth and educational organizations help identify candidates, who then submit teacher recommendations, personal recommendations, school transcripts, financial information, essays, and national test scores. Aid can take the form of a grant, loan, stipend, summer job, mentoring, or some combination of these.
The foundation takes on a couple of tasks that similar groups do not.
One, Ciemniecki said, is to fill in any gaps that may be left by the financial aid package a college gives a student.
"We're finding that there are a number of kids that get their financial aid package and it doesn't quite meet their needs," Ciemniecki said. "We've found that there's a real niche for that."
And, once a student has enough money for college, the foundation can supply the extra money needed to allow attendance at a top-level school.
"We'd like to feel that we're making a difference in the quality of their college education," Ciemniecki said.
So far this year, the foundation has raised about $90,000, primarily from individual contributors and corporate matching donation programs. It also recevied its first grant, $5,000, from the Municipal Bond Club of New York.
A goal is to raise another $100,000 in 1994, Cirasella said. The foundation also is creating an edowment fund as a cushion in case fund-raising efforts falter at times, he said.
At least 90% of the money raised will be applied to scholarships or toward building the endowment fund. Expenses are relatively low, in part because many organizations and professionals volunteer their time, including John D. Dadakis, a partner at Rogers & Wells, and Vincent D. Vaccaro, a partner a partner at Coopers & Lybrand, and their staffs. Dadakis also is the foundation's secretary and Vaccaro is its treasurer. Along with Cirasella and Ciemniecki, the two also were the first members of the foundation's board of directors.
The board of directors has expanded from four to 12 members. Other municipal fiance executives on the board include Patrick D. Coleman, a managing director and manager of national trading at First Boston; D. Lee Hayes, a managing director and manager of the municipal bond department at Lehman; Nigel R. Key, vice president of institutional sales at First Boston; Richard E. Kolman, a vice president and manager of municipal underwriting at Goldman Sachs & Co.; Robert W. Postma of Starr Securities Inc.; and Damon P. Smith 3d, a managing director and manager of the municipal bond department at J.P. Morgan & Co.
In addition to Drozdek, the other 1994 Believe In Me Foundation scholarship winners are: Trecia Matthews, a senior at Cathedral High School in Bronx who will attend the State University of New York at Binghamton; Chuenee Sampson, a senior at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn who will attend Duke University Yasmeen Hayes, a senior at the Manhattan Center for Science and Math who will attend Fisk University; and La-Kee-A Lowry, another Clara Barton High School senior, who will attend St. Michael's College in Vermont. Anthony Perez, who has obtained a Graduate Equivalency Diploma, recently completed a Transition Year Program at Brandeis University and has been accepted as a full-time undergraduate at Brandeis.
The foundation also hopes to award a seventh scholarship before the end of the academic year.
The Believe In Me Foundation can be reached at the following address: PO Box 3427, Church Street Station, New York, N.Y. 10008-3427, 212-528-1307. Contributions are tax deductible.