Billie Kress: Phuture Phoenix kids ‘deserve a chance’

Billie Kress with Phuture Phoenix participantsGreen Bay philanthropist Irene “Billie” Daniell Kress remembers going to an early organizational meeting for what would become the Phuture Phoenix program.

She remembers how co-founder Cyndie Shepard described the impetus for the program as being a chance meeting with a local fifth-grader. The boy said he didn’t have much hope for his future, and said he’d probably end up in prison some day, like his dad.

“That story really caught my attention,” Kress says.

She became an early supporter of Phuture Phoenix, which launched in 2003. The program aims to lift the aspirations of at-risk children by pairing them will college-age mentors, providing tours of campus and encouraging them to graduate from high school and pursue further education.

“These children deserve a chance,” she says. “Kids who are smart enough and ambitious enough should have a chance to go for it… to attend college.”

In June 2008, Kress made the first leadership gift toward creation of a multi-million-dollar scholarship endowment to be funded by private donors. The idea is to have tuition scholarships available when the fifth-graders are old enough to enter UW-Green Bay.

The first Billie Kress Phuture Phoenix Scholarships will be awarded in the near future. The pre-college program’s earliest participants are now juniors in high school and will be eligible for scholarships from the endowment fund in the 2010-11 academic year. Her gift is expected to spin off enough interest to assist several college students each year.

Earlier this month Kress volunteered her help and assisted as about 1,000 children toured campus. She knows that many of the Phuture Phoenix participants are from low-income households.

“Education is very important to me and always has been in my family,” she says. “To me, the Phuture Phoenix Scholarship Fund will be a beacon that leads students onward, letting them know that their dream of attaining a college education is possible. It will open up a whole new world for these kids who may never otherwise have that opportunity.”

A Green Bay native, Mrs. Kress says she has tended to focus her charitable involvement toward projects that benefit children and families in the Green Bay area. Family Services, for example, has been another favorite cause. She says she made her Phuture Phoenix gift in honor of Cyndie Shepard and Ginny Riopelle, who co-founded the program.

The Kress scholarship is joined by two additional scholarship funds announced earlier this year. A group of families donated $10,000 toward creating an endowment in Cyndie Shepard’s name. Additionally, Cyndie and Bruce Shepard announced that they had started an endowment fund for the program.