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Educational Opportunity

Posted On July 7, 2016

The Brunswick Community College Foundation is laying the groundwork for increasing the availability of scholarship funds for its students

By TERESA A. MCLAMB

Elina DiCostanzo brings a passion for educational opportunity to her job managing the Brunswick Community College Foundation that is at least four generations deep. BCC students and donors can hear it in her voice when she talks about the needs of the school, but to understand its breadth, it’s necessary to know a little about her family.

DiCostanzo’s mother was born in Egypt to Sicilian parents. Her father and his family for many generations before him were from the tiny island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples. The destruction of World War II loomed over them as businesses closed and her Russian-Jewish grandfather was held in three concentration camps. By 1952, her parents were again in Italy and looking for a way out. “My parents met in Naples while Mother was trying to get the documents to come to the US. She and her mom and dad were displaced people of war so they had no papers. My father was the paper processor for the American Embassy. The reason they got out early was because they started dating, so it does matter who you know.”

They settled in the DC area where DiCostanzo’s mother took a job with the US government’s Foreign Agricultural Services, and all was well until her father died.  DiCostanzo was seven years old. 

Her mother sold everything she had and moved into the basement of a friend’s house. She put the insurance proceeds in the bank and enrolled Elina in the top, private Catholic school in the area. “She took apart her dresses and made clothes for me. I didn’t have a store bought outfit except the wool Catholic uniform. The whole time I was raised it was like, ‘You have to take care of yourself’ and ‘You have to make sure you can afford your future.’”

Affording their future is exactly what she hopes she is imparting to students at BCC. Her own experience at Montgomery Community College reminds her every day how important the schools are for a solid foundation. She continued at American University where she majored in accounting, because her mother told her she had to. “My mother said ‘You’re majoring in accounting,’ and I said ‘No.’ She said “I’m paying for this, and you’re majoring in accounting or I’m going there and register you myself. You must have a job that you can support yourself for the rest of your life regardless.’”

After graduation, DiCostanzo accepted a position as payroll accountant for a law firm, then as endowment fund accountant for Georgetown University. After marrying, she moved to Denver where she accepted a position as comptroller of subsidiary organizations for the Children’s Hospital, and later as bursar for the University of Denver. “I was basically the professional financial administrator of the school. I supervised 35 people. It afforded me the opportunity to go to college for free and get my masters.” 

In 1990 she and her husband and newly adopted daughter moved to Twin Falls, Idaho to be closer to his family in Montana. A social worker at a battered women’s facility, he had been the target of a shooting rampage that left one person dead and two critically wounded. A flat tire on the way to work saved him, however, the experience left him shaken. “After that happened, my husband said ‘I can’t live in this town anymore.’ He got a job on the phone in Idaho. My upbringing taught me to weather all these storms. Don’t ever let the circumstances get you down.”

Luck and a series of cross-country connections led over time to a position for DiCostanzo at the CPA firm of Cooper-Norman, where she made partner in 2004. 

Fast forward to 2013 when her daughter, now a married woman and a US Marine stationed at Camp LeJeune, gave birth to a child who required surgery at UNC Hospitals. “I was heartbroken that I didn’t live closer.” She heard about the job opening at BCC and immediately applied.

Her predecessor had been there only a few weeks, and the person before her had spent only a year in the job. There was one staff member, and she had been there only a few weeks working on one special event. Her immediate challenge was to figure out what resources were in place, and how to best use them.

The basic premise of the job is to get donations from people who are believers in educational opportunities to bring out excellence in students. All of the energy of this job goes toward building a better educational experience for the student, she said. 

First order of business was to establish credibility for herself in the community. “I was an outsider, probably the most outsider person the college has ever seen. No one is going to donate money through someone they don’t believe in. I had to show through my management skills, my accounting skills and my genuine truthfulness that I have the fiduciary responsibility for the funds.”

She found that the Foundation was misrepresented in GuideStar, a database that prospective donors can use to get information on non-profits. That information has been corrected and BCCF has already been recognized as a platinum member. To visit BCCF’s GuideStar page, search www.guidestar.org for Brunswick Community College Foundation Inc.

“We’ve built procedures. We’re building calendars of other nonprofit events so we don’t conflict.” She’s beefed up the school’s Student Ambassador program.

With the help of board members, she dug into the accounting records and started looking for new funding sources. The school is now a recipient of AmazonSmile.com funds, when purchasers designate BCCF as their preferred charity and shop through that web portal rather than going directly to Amazon.com. She calculates that (based on Amazon stats) if the entire neighborhood of Brunswick Forest, for example, would make purchases on AmazonSmile.com directed to BCCF, the school would get $18,750 annually from just that neighborhood’s purchases. 

“I think it’s really important to broaden our base. Another challenge is finding people in the northern part of the county who want to be involved with the Foundation board and with events.”

 “As far as the Foundation goes, I feel I’ve laid the groundwork. We have a great platform now, and I have an amazing team. We had received funding for an institutional work study.” Individuals and clubs are funding a veteran work study.

“Moving forward my goal is to help the community understand that the Foundation has a role beyond scholarships. You’re not going to graduate cutting edge students without cutting edge technology, or without cutting edge teachers, professors and instructors because they deserve a higher salary and the government state can’t fund that higher salary.”

“I would like to increase the endowments because they honor people in perpetuity. I would like to get some buildings named, and automate automate automate.” Much of the scholarship application process is now automated, allowing students to easily find the scholarships for which they are qualified.

She’s also determined to increase scholarship availability for the workplace development side of the school.

No matter which track people pursue, finding funds to make the education available to them is DiCostanzo’s top priority. “It’s evident from my background that education was a pivotal thing in my life. My mother always said ‘They can never take your education away from you. They can strip you of everything else, but can never take your education.’”

2015-2016 Academic Year Scholarships

188 Awards

85 Recipients

$203,545 Awarded

$2,395 Average Award per Student

$3.4 Million Total Endowment

For more information on the BCCF or to make a donation, visit brunswickcc.edu/foundation-giving or call 910-755-8517.

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