Like Joseph Graham, Saleem Ghubril
life in two worlds.
As executive director of The Pittsburgh Promise since 2008, he spends much of his time working with and worrying about kids from the city's worst neighborhoods, much as he did as founder and executive director of The Pittsburgh Project, a faith-based North Side organization he began in 1985 that also seeks to improve the lives of the city's poor.
not spending time with and worrying about those kids, Ghubril
is spending time with and worrying about convincing the city's wealthy individuals, corporations and foundations to kick in enough money to make The Promise a reality for more than just the current generation of Pittsburgh Public School students.
While Joseph frets about reaching that 2.5 grade point average before he
graduates next year, Ghubril loses sleep over the thousands-or more-of future graduates who'll benefit if he
is able to lead The Promise to its initial fundraising goal of $250 million.
"I'm keenly aware of the heavy lifting that's before us," said Ghubril
"I feel its weight and realize its importance."
After you meet this soft-spoken, ordained minister with the steely determination to help young people, it is the least surprising thing in the world to know he
was a friend of Fred Rogers (he spoke at Rogers' memorial service, bringing many of the mourners to tears).
Like Rogers-who was known to agonize over a single word in a script for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"-Ghubril believes words hold power.
"When people ask me what I do now, I still say, 'youth worker,' " he
And like Rogers-who showed, as well as told, how people did what they did-Ghubril believes actions can speak louder than words.
The North Side home he
chose for his
family was purposefully alongside the kids and families he
helped with The Pittsburgh Project.
And when he
took the Promise job, Ghubril
insisted its headquarters be in a neighborhood where some of its target audience lived.
As a result, The Promise is headquartered in the midst of the Hill District.
And it is from there that Ghubril worries about the city's poor youth and wealthy, potential donors.
The Promise's largest donation-a $100 million matching grant from UPMC-was already on the books when Ghubril took office in June 2008, a year-and-a-half after former Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Mark Roosevelt and former Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl first announced the creation of The Promise.
Still, in his
first five years, Ghubril
team of civic-minded advocates managed to raise nearly half of that-about $73 million.
At about the time that Ghubril
and other Promise leaders were announcing in April 2013 that they would try to raise the remaining $90 million in two years, they knew that in 2012, for the first time in The Promise's short history, they spent more in the prior year than they took in.
In 2012, with nearly $12 million in contributions (less than half the amount it raised three years earlier) and $1.7 million in investment income, The Promise spent about $17,000 more than it took in, and year-end net assets dropped slightly to $53.1 million. (Through 2012, The Promise spent about $44 million on scholarships and operational expenses.
But the expenses already paid plus current assets don't total $170 million-the amount the Promise raised by 2013-because some of the money raised, including part of UPMC's matching grant, is in multi-year commitments and has not yet been paid to the Promise.) You might think a year like 2012 would cause even more sleep loss for Ghubril
says of 2012's expense and revenue figures: "I stopped thinking of our fundraising in 12-month cycles.
To have more money to invest for future scholarships, Ghubril
and a team of Promise advocates-50 supporters on committees that are chaired by representatives of the city's most prominent organizations and companies-pledged to finish what they refer to as the "Phase II" of fundraising.
It is not, as it may seem, because of a "cash flow issue," Ghubril
does a lot of direct fundraising himself and likes to use an acronym to describe his
has been contacting more national organizations, including, eventually, the Carnegie Corporation of New York
, funded by the steel magnate who made his
fortune largely in Pittsburgh.
"I'm researching now how to approach them," said Ghubril, who added that when The Promise reaches its initial $250 million goal, he will leave his post.
and other Promise supporters, strongly disagree.
"I don't know if there were bets on the table early on if we could raise all the money necessary," Ghubril
"But here we are six years later with a fairly substantial track record, positive outcomes, $173 million raised and more to come."
points to the city's stabilizing population the last three years, increases in the Pittsburgh Public Schools'
kindergarten enrollment for two straight years, an improved graduation rate (from 63 percent in 2007 to 69 percent in 2012) and an increase in the percentage of graduating seniors who attend post-secondary education the first two years after high school (from 58 percent in 2005 to 68 percent in 2010).
"At our first Promise board meeting in 2008, I said that 'failure' for us is that 10 years will have passed and we will have sent 15,000 kids to college," said Ghubril