The Taco Bell Foundation for Teens and the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation announced a two-year partnership to address America’s teen graduation crisis, where one in three students drops out of high school without receiving a diploma.

In the San Antonio metropolitan area, an estimated 34 percent of high school students (10,500) do not graduate on time with a high school diploma. Actor and producer Mark Wahlberg will appear in a June national campaign to raise awareness and encourage support for the issue.

Actor Mark Wahlberg shows his commitment to the initiative on the basketball court during the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens ad.

Between June 3-15, participating Taco Bell restaurants in San Antonio will invite customers to give $1 to support the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens’ “Graduate to Go” initiative. Money raised will provide local grants to organizations with a track record of empowering teens, like the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. For their support, customers will receive a coupon for a free taco.

“Through my foundation and great organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of America, I have witnessed incredible success stories where youth programs play life-saving roles keeping at-risk teens on track,” Wahlberg says. “I’m proud to team up with the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens and its Graduate to Go initiative to help more young people earn their diplomas and realize their dreams.”

Graduate To Go is a long-term effort to raise awareness of the high-school dropout crisis and encourage teens to get their diplomas. The initiative funds real-world experiences, such as job training and college preparation, proven to motivate teens to stay in school.

“Our new partnership with Mark Wahlberg and his foundation is a natural fit given our shared commitment to help teens graduate to a better life,” says Bob Fulmer, executive director of the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens. “Our goal through the Graduate to Go initiative is to reach 100,000 teens annually through real-world experiences and help cut the high school dropout rate in half by 2018.”

The television spot takes place in a high school where Wahlberg interacts with students in a classroom, by the lockers and in a gym, reinforcing the importance of being involved. Entitled “The Power of One,” the spot was directed by acclaimed film director David O. Russell, who has worked with Wahlberg on four movies including the upcoming feature film The Fighter to be released later this year.

Wahlberg delivers startling statistics about teen dropout rates and provides a compelling message about how one person can make a difference in a teen’s life. The spot urges viewers to support the graduation initiative through the Taco Bell fundraiser. In addition to the national TV and online spots, there also are radio spots and poster displays in participating Taco Bell restaurants nationwide.

Studies have shown that reducing the number of dropouts by 50 percent for this single high school class would result in tremendous economic benefits to the San Antonio region. This single class of new graduates would likely earn as much as $56 million in combined earnings in the average year compared to their likely earnings without a diploma. Moreover, increased earnings would likely allow these graduates to spend an additional $42 million and invest an additional $14 million during the average year.

“Reducing the dropout rate makes sense for individual students, but it also makes strong economic sense for the nation,” says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “For example, cutting the dropout rate in half in the nation’s fifty largest cities each year would result in $4.1 billion in additional earnings, 30,000 additional jobs, and $5.3 billion in economic growth. That’s an economic stimulus package that everyone should be able to get behind.”

In addition to the annual national fundraiser and local grant giving, the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens will look to partner with other like-minded groups and corporations to provide real experiences such as job training and college preparation for teens to stay engaged in school and prepare for their future.

Since 1995, the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens and its supporting programs have helped more than 500,000 teens stay in school and on the path to graduation through its national partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and affiliation with other nonprofit organizations. The Taco Bell Foundation for Teens is the largest teen program donor to Boys & Girls Clubs of America, giving more than $28 million to support teen programming since 1995.

In addition, the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens provides grants to other worthy programs designed to help teens stay in school and on the path to graduation. This year, the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens will distribute $1.8 million in local grants to nearly 300 organizations.

Charitable Giving, Menu Innovations, News, Taco Bell