By ROGER MOONEY
It was 2001 and Tom James, then CEO of Raymond James, listened as Tampa businessman and Step Up founder John Kirtley laid out his vision for a means to provide low-income students in Florida with educational opportunities through corporate tax credit scholarships.
This struck a chord with James, whose wealth management and investment banking firm had long been an active investor in the communities it served, especially in the area of education.
“Listening to John, his message resonated with me,” said Tom James, who now serves as chairman emeritus at Raymond James Financial. “I knew he was passionate about helping underprivileged children, and this was an opportunity for Raymond James to invest in our community.”
Soon after, Raymond James Financial became a founding donor to Step Up For Students through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and the partnership has grown ever since. To date, Raymond James has funded 7,996 scholarships through contributions totaling more than $38 million.
“I am extremely grateful for the longstanding relationship with Raymond James,” Kirtley said. “Our partnership has allowed thousands of Florida schoolchildren to have access to the school that is most appropriate for their needs, which will allow them to be successful in life.”
In 2018, Raymond James’ partnership with Step Up grew even stronger with the addition of Paul Shoukry, senior vice president of finance, treasurer and head of investor relations, to Step Up’s Advisory Board.
Impacting the direction of a student’s life is what attracted Shoukry to join Step Up’s Advisory Board.
The Advisory Board is comprised of business leaders who strategically advise and assist Step Up, giving their personal time to help ensure the success of Step Up.
“Education has always been an area that I would say is of significant importance to our community, because that is where you can change the trajectory of people’s lives, of children’s lives, as they become adults and make a long-lasting impact to the community,” Shoukry said.
Shoukry has seen this impact firsthand at Step Up events where he’s met scholarship students.
At one event, Shoukry met a high schooler with a familiar story: The young man had struggled in his previous school. His grades were poor. He was ineligible to play sports.
“Step Up enabled him to go to another school where everything turned around for him in his life,” Shoukry said. “He went from what was likely a story of another high school dropout to someone who is in college now.”
The 2001 vision for how the tax credit scholarship program could change lives has been realized. Through the support of Raymond James and other donor companies, Step Up is providing K-12 scholarships to nearly 100,000 lower-income students across Florida this year.
“Our biggest challenge now is to continue the momentum we’ve built through the years so that we can reach more students,” says Kirtley.
That’s what Shoukry is trying to help.
“Tom paved the way in creating this partnership,” said Shoukry. “I’m honored to represent Raymond James on the Advisory Board, and I’d like to help other companies see the value that Step Up is giving to children in Florida.”
Marketing Communications Manager Roger Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.