Eddie Rispone: making life better, one person at a time in Louisiana
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. –Archimedes
From workforce development programs that connect great employees with great companies, to innovative efforts to empower low-income families to choose the best school for their children, Eddie Rispone has helped create a blueprint for urban renewal in Louisiana.
Raised in a second-generation immigrant family in a blue-collar neighborhood in Baton Rouge, Rispone received a Catholic education that equipped him to achieve personal and professional success. Now known for his generosity and tireless efforts on behalf of the less fortunate, Rispone believes that helping to establish ACE Scholarships in Louisiana is one of his most effective acts of stewardship.
“During a recent visit to a school choice function, a mother addressed us with tears in her eyes and told us that receiving an ACE Scholarship helped save the life of her child,” recalled Rispone. “Empowering parents with choice in education for their children is one of the best investments we can make in the future of our society, and in the lives of those in need.”
A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rispone is the co-founder of ISC Constructors, LLC, which provides electrical and instrumentation services for industrial facilities across the Gulf Coast. When he became aware that young people were not being prepared for the growing number of high-paying jobs in skilled trades and other fields, he set out to do something about it.
“In 2005, we realized that we needed to do something different so we invited representatives from all sectors in the construction industry to help come up with a plan,” said Rispone. “We worked for a year and came up with formal recommendations for what needed to be done.”
That effort led to the establishment of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council, an innovative effort that created a strategic plan to equip and educate the state’s citizens in preparing for meaningful careers. The program is used as a model for other states seeking to address workforce development issues.
When Rispone learned that many workers lacked even basic skills in reading and math, he realized the most important challenge facing Louisiana was improving the K-12 education system.
“At the time, schools in Louisiana had a 70 percent graduation rate, and 30 percent of those graduates required significant remedial training before taking a job or entering college,” he explained.
Leaders from the American Federation for Children (AFC) and the Black Alliance for Educational Option (BAEO) convinced him that the most effective way to reform education was to empower parents with choice in education. He joined AFC as the chairman of the Louisiana Federation for Children (LFC) and others in establishing the Tuition Donate Rebate Program (TDR), which today equips thousands of low-income Louisiana families with the financial resources to choose the school that will best prepare their children for college and careers by providing a 95 percent tax rebate to individuals, corporations, and nonprofits that donate to the program.
Rispone said that Superintendent of Education, John White and his team first introduced him to ACE Scholarships when the state was evaluating organizations to serve as School Tuition Organization (STO) for the TDR program.
“Everyone we met from ACE Scholarships was knowledgeable, professional, and passionate about the TDR program,” recalled Rispone. “The organization was my top candidate to serve as an STO for the program in Louisiana and I am delighted that the organization was selected as an STO.”
So far, ACE has awarded nearly 3,000 scholarships through the TDR program in Louisiana with a cumulative worth of more than $12 million, helping send children from low-income families to the schools of their choice.
“Each one of the families and students who receive an ACE Scholarship in Louisiana is given hope and opportunity for a better life,” said Rispone. “My hope is that more individuals and corporations will take advantage of the opportunity to use the TDR program to benefit students.”
Rispone’s determination to provide help and hope to others is deeply rooted in his faith, and in his belief in the importance of promoting the common good in society.
“I do not see myself as a businessperson, I see myself as a Catholic who is a steward of the many things God has blessed me with,” explained Rispone. “I believe each one of us has something to give, and we are called to give of our time, talent, and treasure in helping others.”
One of seven children, Rispone said there was no way that his father, who worked as a machinist, could have afforded to provide his family with a Catholic education without support from the St. Gerard Majella Parish in Baton Rouge.
“At one time, we had almost 2,000 kids in grade school – there were four classrooms for each grade – and the Sisters of Notre Dame who taught at the school made sure every student received a strong spiritual and academic formation,” recalled Rispone. “My support for ACE Scholarships is rooted in my experience of the difference that receiving a strong moral and academic formation can make in the life of a person.”
“It is becoming more and more obvious that we are failing our children by not giving them an opportunity to be educated in a way that will allow them to have happy, productive lives,” concluded Rispone. “When we leave this world, we leave everything behind except the good that we have accomplished through stewardship. I believe donating to ACE Scholarships is one of the best investments we can make for the good of God’s children and for the good of society.”