Founders Celebration Gives Good Reason to Celebrate

Fifteen years ago, a group of individuals questioned what they were going to be able to accomplish – and what difference they could make in the lives of at-risk students when they established Simon Youth Foundation. That question was answered on Saturday night during the Founders Celebration event.


Deborah Simon said it best: “Some of you have heard me say that if we’ve helped one kid, we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. Well, we have actually changed 10,000 lives.”

Tim Earnest shared with the 160 guests some thoughts from the early days: “The inspiration for creating Simon Youth Foundation was for the kids. Simon has always had a special relationship with kids, from day one, as our first customers. The inspiration was to be a part of solutions for young people and to help kids in our community.”

David Contis spoke to the guests about the strength of partnerships and the thrust it gives to SYF, especially from the employees of Simon Property Group and Simon Malls.


Simon Youth Foundation has become a national nonprofit that benefits at-risk high school students. With a network of 23 Academies in 13 states, an in partnership with 50+ school district partners, Simon Youth Academies continue to boast a 90% graduation rate. In just15 years, SYF has awarded $10,000 in scholarships and graduated 10,000 students.

So, what difference could they make? A significant one that is insurmountable in the lives of the young students.

Highlights from the Founders Celebration included:
  • Raising $240,00 thanks to the generosity of vendors, sponsors and partners (doubling revenue from last year’s event).
  • Recognizing the generosity and significant level of support from Ameripark, LLC, Benchmark Design Group, Carrier, Direct Energy, Facility Solutions Group, Interface, Roth Brothers, SMS Holdings, Stanley Security Solutions, VCC and Zipp & Tannenbaum, LLC; in addition to all the Ignite and Hope Circle sponsors. 
  • Three outstanding field representatives were recognized for their important and innovative contributions to SYF.
    • Mark Whiting, Mall Manager, Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA and home of the Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy at Northshore Mall. Mark was recognized as a collaborator and master at building relationships to inspire others to do their best.
    • Austin Martin, Mall Manager in University Park, South Bend, Indiana, was recognized for his working in raising the awareness of SYF and the development of the barricade program throughout the Simon portfolio.
    • Debby Weber was recognized as the creator of Bowling for Education, which started as a local Northeast area event and has grown across Simon Malls, raising more than $750,000 annually for SYF programs.
Through the vision, leadership and energy of Founders Deborah Simon, Tim Earnest, Michelle Bellej and Ron Hanson SYF has been able to ignite hope for 15 years, distribute more than $10 million in scholarships and graduate more than 10,000 at-risk students in Simon Youth Academies. As a thank you, each Founder was presented with a certificate and graduation tassel – including the original tassel of the 10,000th graduate, Dustin Asbury, from Simon Youth Judson Learning Academy at Rolling Oaks, which was presented to Deborah Simon.

SYF President, Michael Durnil made a promise to the Founders, donors, supporters and friends at the event: “SYF promises to continue to be a force of change for the better.”

The evening concluded with the launching of 15 sky lanterns, representing 15 years of Simon Youth Foundation.

Leave a Comment