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Greene Co. education foundation reaches $1M campaign goal in record time

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

GCCA students and coaches
Greene County High School students celebrate the Thillen Education Foundation (TEF) reaching their $1,000,000 campaign goal. Pictured with the students are Dave and Elaine Thillen, co-founders of TEF, Shannon Daniel, director of operations of TEF, Ellen Dracos Lemming, TEF campaign chair, and John Ellenberg, chief executive officer of GCCA.

In just four months, an educational foundation designed to strengthen the futures of Greene County High School students met their fundraising goal.

“The outpouring of community support for GCCA is simply remarkable,” said Dave Thillen, founder and CEO of the Thillen Education Foundation. “We are grateful to everyone who has helped secure more financially stable futures for Greene County High School graduates.”

John Ellenberg, CEO of the Greene College and Career Academy (GCCA), said via press release that reaching the campaign goal allows the foundation to continue its work to drive student success. “I am confident this investment will reap even greater rewards for Greene County High School students for years to come,” he continued.

Skilled career coaches make up the heart of the program. They are professional community members who give their time to help local students. Thillen says the program pairs students with experts in the field they are interested in pursuing. More than half of the career coaches have advanced degrees.

Each of the more than 100 coaches is assigned 3-4 students and meets with them each month. “We’re going to the tune of about 400 appointments a month. So in a ten-month school year, about 4000 times, people from this community are meeting with students during high school,” Thillen told Lake Country Today. “They are an unbelievable group of people.”

Dave Thillen spoke on the difference between this program and traditional scholarships. Listen now.

Every student in the school can earn “Dave Dollars” toward their future plans. There are ten ways students can earn the funds.

how many Dave Dollars can you earn?

While the “Dave Dollars” translates to real US currency, no real money changes hands. For example, if a student puts the money towards college, it will be directly deposited to the university.

College is not the only path students can take with the program. If a student decides to go into skilled work, they offer tiered “career start packages” ranging from $300 to $900 that students can purchase.

“So if you’re going to be a welder, [the package would have] the welding headgear, it’s got the boots, and you got the safety stuff in gloves,” Thillen said.

If a student decides to pursue military service, the funds will be held for six years.

Thillen was raised in Inner City, Chicago. His mother, who only had an eighth-grade education, supported five children. He never knew his father. Thillen was the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school and later went on to have a successful career with IBM.

“I’ve had a whole different life than the rest of my family,” Thillen said. “I work hard, but any of these kids can do it [that’s why] I tell them where I came from.”

The program is having an impact. According to a press release, “since the foundation’s inception, student promotion rates have increased 30 percent, and discipline referrals have decreased by 60 percent.”

More About Thillen Education Foundation

Based in Greensboro, GA, the 501(c)(3) Thillen Education Foundation is a distinguished community-based earned financial assistance program based on personal coaching and committed to honoring the achievements of 450+ students participating in Greene College & Career Academy at Greene County High School, a Title I school. Through corporate sponsorships and funding support, we strive to break the cycle of systemic poverty by financially enabling post-secondary education and skills training for hardworking students. Visit for more information.

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A student holds two Dave Dollars

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