When Dick Turner was born in Fountain Square, there was no such thing as financial aid. Most people, he said, couldn’t afford college, and if they decided to go, they worked for a semester, saved, attended a semester and so on. Turner worked in the meat-packing industry to save college money, but he was drafted before he could meet his goals.
While in the military, he found a way to spend his free time: taking college courses. He took courses in marketing and business, and when his professor told him that finding a better, cheaper way to use funds that a company has already allocated for a certain purpose made you an invaluable employee, it stuck with him.
Turner was in the service for three years, and when he was discharged, he got married and went into the restaurant business, opening Burger Chefs across the south. H & H Green Stamps were big then, and one of his clients mused on how nice it was that a number of stamps equaled a lamp or a toaster for someone. And wasn’t it too bad that stamps couldn’t be redeemed for a college education? That also stuck with Turner.
A number of years later, Turner returned to Indiana and was working as a recruiter for ITT. His job was both to convince the individuals to attend and to collect a $100 fee from them. Financial aid was available — they’d get $2,500 in assistance — but they had to first fork over the $100. Turner was astonished at the number of people who wanted to go to college but couldn’t scrape together the small fee.
A newspaper ad with coupons for Jack’s Pizza caught his eye and reminded him of his client’s lament about the stamps. “So I put together a presentation,” he said. “I went to Jack’s Pizza and asked them if they gave donations to schools.”
Many establishments didn’t donate to schools, saying that if they donated to one, others would expect the same. But what they did do was coupon. What if a $1 coupon could mean 50 cents for a local school and 50 cents in a college fund?
In his studies, Turner learned that $330 billion per year was spent on coupons just for grocery stores. He decided to present the idea to one of his friends, an attorney. “I have found $330 billion to tap into for education,” he told his friend.
That meeting led to a number of other meetings, and the idea, now called PEP, grew. If the coupon-user wasn’t a parent with school-aged children, the voucher could be used to pay off student loans or to save for retirement.
Eventually Turner got in touch with the late Michael Carroll, an executive for Lilly Endowment, who began setting up conference calls with big names like Procter & Gamble and Pepsi. Carroll also informed Turner that because of the nature of what he was trying to do, Turner would need to quit ITT and wait seven years to continue pursuing his idea.
During that time, in 1992, Carroll and Frank McKinney (who was also involved in the program) were killed in a plane crash. When Turner tried to access Carroll’s PEP files, he found that they had been sealed. Carroll’s wife, however, told Turner to press on.
These days, Turner is nearing his goal. To get the major contracts he’s hoping for, 200,000 families need to sign up for PEP. His goal is for families to be able to scan a card at major stores, and every time a family purchases a product from a participating company, a dollar of the purchase will be put toward the program. The companies won’t spend money on coupons, but customers will have an incentive to buy their products. Smaller stores have paper vouchers that can be redeemed online, where participating families can also see their progress and find out where else they can save.
Real estate companies have shown interest, too, offering $50 toward PEP to list a house and $400 when it sells.
To sign up, and to see the complete breakdown of where your funds will go, visit www.pepfunds.org or www.tmisavings4u.com. It’s free to sign up, and when registered, school districts can be specified for funds to be channeled to; locally, both Beech Grove and IPS have given consent for pilot programs. Interested businesses can contact PEP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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