The coronavirus has put a big damper on college and high school graduations, but it hasn’t stopped them, and, this week, Say Yes Guilford celebrated the graduation of the first Say Yes Guilford class that received scholarship money and other help from the organization.

Say Yes Guilford, which helps high school graduates from financially challenged families pay for college, started up four years ago and now those first students in the program are graduating after completing their four-year degrees.

This week, Say Yes Guilford is also celebrating the more than 5,000 Guilford County Schools students who’ve earned high school diplomas – and many of them will get help from the organization when they head off to college.

In 2016, the Say Yes program in Guilford County began as one meant to help all county hich school graduates pay for college. However, due to a massive financial miscalculation several years ago, the program had to scale back and target that help toward families with less income.

In a press release, Say Yes Guilford Chief Executive Officer Wendy Poteat stated that COVID-19 continues to bring radical changes to education locally and around the country. However, she added, that the core mission of Say Yes Guilford has remained the same.

“Despite the many things that have changed, students still are counting on us for guidance and support to achieve their college and career goals,” Poteat stated.

She also noted that the local organization does a lot more than provide financial aid to college students.

“This spring Say Yes Guilford helped provide student access to needed technology, hosted webinars to help seniors with decisions about college and how to pay for it; and connected one-on-one with families to help them to make the best individual choices related to their education and career path,” she stated. “This summer, Say Yes Guilford will continue to support families with workshops focusing on the new social and emotional challenges facing our students, preventing summer slide in reading and math, and support for Guilford County Schools graduates who are in college or recently graduated.”

Poteat also stated that Say Yes Guilford is committed to driving the local economy forward, and she said that a well-educated workforce draws employers to the community, and that, in turn, brings good-paying jobs.

She concluded by asking donors to help Say Yes help the kids.

“We are living in a challenging time,” she said. “Like other businesses and nonprofits, Say Yes Guilford has felt losses while the need for support grows. We must act urgently to ensure Guilford County Schools’ students succeed in the classroom and are prepared for college or a career after graduation. We must support our students’ social, emotional and academic needs. We must stand by our graduates who will join our community and who will change our world.”