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January 1, 2007

As head of the Cristo Rey Network, he helps low-income kids get to college.

By Barbara Kantrowitz and Karen Springen

The best ideas are often bred in desperation. A decade ago, Father John Foley and his Jesuit colleagues were in the midst of creating a new college-prep high school for students from Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, a low-income area largely populated by Mexican immigrants. Even finishing high school was a lofty goal for many of these youngsters; in the inner city, a 50 percent dropout rate is not unusual. Coming up with a curriculum that would turn likely dropouts into college grads was a major challenge, but figuring out how to pay for the school seemed an even bigger obstacle. Clearly, the parents could not afford much tuition. The church couldn't sustain it, either. The worthy project was in danger of failure before a single student had enrolled. So Foley turned to a management consultant he describes as "original in his thinking." Two weeks later, the consultant, Richard Murray, returned with the suggestion that the students themselves could pay for their education by working at local companies. "It was a brilliant idea," Foley says. "That was the birth of this whole thing."

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Photo Credit: Jesse Chehak for Newsweek

© 2007