About Utah: Garffs know incentives work

Published: Sunday, Oct. 20 2013 10:40 p.m. MDT

There’s the one about the boy with a drug problem at Cottonwood High who almost never came to class; when he did come he came late, and he had the 0.0 grade point average to prove it. Then a counselor told him if he improved his attendance and raised his GPA he could win a day pass to ski at The Canyons. He’d always wanted to ski, so he came to class, on time, and raised his GPA, which, granted, was not difficult. The next thing he knew he was at The Canyons, courtesy of the Key card he redeemed, where he spent all day teaching himself to ski.

Next, he focused on winning another prize, tickets to a Grizzlies hockey game, something else he’d never experienced, which kept him in class and further raised his grades. By the end of the term he had a 3.1 GPA for that quarter, and for the first time in his life he was thinking more about college than about drugs. Jon Huntsman, who was governor at the time, learned about the boy and recruited him to go around the state and speak to at-risk students about the importance of laying off drugs and staying in school.

There’s the one about the third-grade boy in Tooele who was one of 10 lucky kids whose names had been put in the hat for the bicycle drawing. The entire school was summoned to an assembly to watch the drawing. But when the boy’s name was drawn he didn’t laugh or cheer; instead, he started to cry.

When the principal asked him why he was so sad about winning a brand-new bike, he wailed, “I already have a bike; I wanted her to win. She doesn’t have one,” and pointed to a girl sitting near him on the floor. The principal made a command decision on the spot and told the boy he could give his bike to the girl, which he did.

There’s another about the refugee from Ivory Coast who came to America with his mother, brothers and sisters after their father vanished fighting in his homeland’s civil war. The family landed in Utah with nothing but each other. The boy started over, learning a new language, culture and school system. A math teacher took a special interest in him, tutoring him after school and making sure he participated in the Keys program.

At the end-of-year drawing, he won one of the cars. He traded it in for its cash equivalent, $15,000, and used the money to buy the family a cheaper used car for transportation and to pay for his tuition at Salt Lake Community College, where he’s studying to be a dentist.

The program Bob and Kathi Garff laid out for their kids that day in 2003 at their kitchen table has grown and multiplied well beyond their grasp.

Ten years later, it takes Folkerson and a full-time, year-round staff of 10 to monitor and manage Keys to Success and Road to Success. Dozens of sponsors are now involved, ranging from Chick-fil-A and Wal-Mart to O.C. Tanner, Questar and Fox13, and many more. Ken Garff Automotive Group remains a title sponsor, but it’s now joined in that capacity by Zions Bank and Mountain America Credit Union. Success in Education is a public tax-exempt 501(c)(3) foundation with its own board of directors, including but certainly not limited to the Garffs.

All of which makes the Garffs ecstatic.

“To do it right, we couldn’t do it all ourselves,” says Bob. “We’re just thrilled that so many others are helping it grow.”

“It’s not just our work of passion anymore, it’s a work of passion for everyone involved,” says Kathi.

She thinks back to the rather humble beginnings and laughs at the memory.

“I was thinking we’d give away a pencil, or maybe an eraser,” she says.

To which Bob responds now as he did then: “I mean, really, what motivates a high school student more than a car?”

By the numbers


65 participating high schools, including eight alternative schools, in Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah, Carbon and Emery counties

115,000 students, 7,000 faculty and staff

593 total scholarships awarded to date, value $649,000

More than 30,000 prizes awarded each school year

iPad tablets awarded to one student at each participating high school; 192 awarded to date

5 new cars awarded at end of each school year. To date, 530 used and 15 new cars awarded


246 participating elementary schools, including 88 Title I schools, in Cache, Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah, San Juan, Sanpete and Daggett counties

165,000 students, 11,000 faculty and staff

1,000 grand prizes awarded each year, total value more than $60,000

480 savings certificates awarded each year

1.5 million weekly incentives awarded each year

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com

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