Roberts Tells Exchangites About Projects Of Niswonger Foundation
By: Lisa Warren/Staff Writer
Source: The Greeneville Sun
Richard Roberts "exchanged" his political campaign hat Saturday afternoon for one to promote
educational initiatives to persons who live outside of Greene County.
Roberts was the guest speaker at a luncheon Saturday for the Exchange Club's Tennessee District
convention, which wrapped up this weekend at the General Morgan Inn.
"Being in the midst of a political campaign, it's great to be at a non-political event for a change," said
Roberts, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District seat.
During his talk, Roberts gave a brief overview of the mission of the Niswonger Foundation, a locally
based philanthropical organization that he helped to develop for its founder, Greeneville businessman
and philanthropist Scott Niswonger.
At the heart of the foundation, Roberts said, is the promotion of education in East Tennessee not only to benefit individual students, but also to foster community growth and development in the area.
Organized about five years ago, the Niswonger Foundation works to develop partnerships with schools
and school systems and to help them address needs that "might not be readily addressable" due to
funding restrictions or other barriers, he said.
Roberts related various success stories of the Niswonger Foundation and said that he hopes the
Exchangites would carry such ideas back to their own communities for possible development there.
One success story that Roberts shared with the group occurred in the tiny Cocke County elementary
school of Grassy Cove.
For years, the K-8 school of about 130 students had not only been facing declining enrollment, but also
miserably low standardized test scores among its student population.
"The students of the school tested in the lowest 15 percent in the state of Tennessee," Roberts said.
The Niswonger Foundation staff members met with the entire staff of the school from the principal right down to the custodians and asked them to provide solutions for the problems that the school was facing.
By contributing less than $400 per student, the Foundation was able to provide the school with much
needed computers, software and other educational resources and helped to turn the test results
around in just a couple of years.
"This year, the kids in that school beat three out of four of the elementary schools in Maryville, a town that consistently tests among the top in the state," Roberts said.
"It is exciting for us to turn around a situation that was declining and to do so not by going in and telling them what they needed to do, but by going in and helping them to identify what resources they needed to succeed," he said.
It is this approach that Roberts said has been a cornerstone of success for the Niswonger Foundation's educational mission.
Another success story or stories has been the graduation this year of the first class of Niswonger
Scholars, Roberts said.
The Niswonger Scholars program provides full scholarships to any U.S. college or university for specially selected area high school seniors who exhibit not only academic success, but also leadership potential, Roberts said.
"The only stipulation is that they come back to this area and become productive citizens," he added.
"Otherwise, they must pay the money back over time."
The amount of the individual scholarships depends largely upon what grants and other scholarship
money is available to the students who are selected as Niswonger scholars.
Since most universities and colleges are looking for the caliber of student selected as a Niswonger
Scholar, Roberts said the funding needed for the scholarship from the Foundation is often less than most would expect since these students tend to receive other financial assistance.
The whole purpose of the scholarship program is to eliminate any financial problems that could cause a
student not to go to college, Roberts said.
Thanks to scholarships and other educational resources, students can make the choice to go beyond any cultural or socio-economic boundaries that may have previously held them back, Roberts said.