By  on June 14, 2006

NEW YORK — Stephen Sadove, chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, used a bit of marketing know-how on Friday during a luncheon to benefit A Better Chance, which helps gifted students of color.

Sadove decided that as each guest filled out a $100 donation card, a balloon would float above his or her table. He then said he would match the donations represented by 200 balloons. There were 393 balloons at the conclusion of the event at the Waldorf-Astoria, which drew 900 people and raised $750,000.

A Better Chance refers academically talented students of color — African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American — entering grades 6 through 11 to top private and public schools to be considered for placement and financial assistance.

Sadove, who received the Corporate Leadership Award from A Better Chance, commended the organization. "You couldn't ask for a more wonderful return on investment," he said. Then he drew parallels to Saks, saying both organizations "strive to create environments where people may reach and exceed their potential."

That was certainly true for Grammy Award-winning singer Tracy Chapman, who benefited from a A Better Chance. Chapman, holding back tears, said she was overwhelmed to receive the organization's Chairman's Award. Describing her junior high school days in Cleveland in the late Seventies, Chapman said, "It was a time of great upheaval. The classrooms were crowded, there were teacher strikes and there were race riots."

She was placed in the Wooster School in Danbury, Conn. Her mother initially was reluctant to send her there — until Chapman was mugged at gunpoint at age 15.

"I always loved school," Chapman said. "I loved learning. I loved reading. School was a refuge for me."

A Better Chance represented a beginning. "It was the start of many new experiences and many challenges" that changed her life, Chapman said. "It was the moment someone saw the potential and offered me a better chance."

Also at the luncheon, Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College of the City University of New York, received the Benjamin E. Mays Award.

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