Minding Our Business receives hefty grants

by Jess Hoogendoorn

With donations just shy of $100,000, the Minding Our Business (MOB) program increased its reach.

Dr. Sigfredo Hernandez, the MOB founder, began writing applications for grants to foundations and corporations in December 2007 and January of this year. In April, he still did not have any cash in hand and was beginning to worry, not about failing to reach his goal of expanding the summer program, but about maintaining what was already in place.

“I was worried about the distinct possibility of not being able to run a session of the MOB Summer Program,” Hernandez said. “There is no such thing as promised money by donors so you can imagine that I was getting somewhat anxious about the lack of money in early April.”

Funds were so low that Hernandez had to lay off the program’s part-time administrator. However, by the end of April and May, a silver lining appeared as grant money began rolling in. The program received $20,000 from Bank of America, $30,000 from the Trenton Board of Education and $5,000 from Merrill Lynch. The Prudential Foundation gave $15,000 toward the summer program and the RGK Foundation of Texas donated $20,000.

“In my opinion, the key reason for all this money coming in is that the quality of our programs is starting to be recognized at the national level,” Hernandez said.

In April, the program was recognized by the Center for Summer Learning at John Hopkins University as one of the top 20 programs in the country in terms of summer excellence, according to Hernandez.

The spring program increased from 100 Trenton students from two schools to 173 students from four Trenton schools. The schools included Hedgepeth-Williams, PJ Hill, Rivera and Grant. A pilot program was also run with TCNJ Bonner Program students who were mentors to four students at Trenton High and 10 students from Team MVP, a basketball team of middle school students.

According to Hernandez, the number of Rider students participating as mentors has increased from 34 in 2007 to 52 this year.

“To get 52 students to take an elective course at Rider is a major accomplishment, but MOB provides the opportunity for a great learning experience and we were able to recruit the number of Rider students that we needed,” Hernandez said.

The summer program expanded from one session of 30 students and four Trenton schools in 2007 to two sessions, 58 students and 10 schools this year.

“I would like to expand the programs to other urban areas in New Jersey and in other states,” Hernandez said. “In fact, this fall I will start to market MOB in Camden and Newark.”

Project director Kevin Wortham is the lead instructor for the summer programs. He has been working in the field of entrepreneurial training for 22 years. Hernandez and Wortham have been working side by side for 12 years and are both very adamant about expanding MOB.

“I’ve been ready since day one to see the program go nationwide,” Wortham said. “The quality of our program is bar none.”

Hernandez believes MOB changes the lives of both the college students and low-income youth participants. College students become more interested in community service and low-income youth are more inclined to go to college, according to Hernandez.

“[Inner city students’] school attendance improves and their tardiness decreases,” Hernandez said. “Their self-esteem improves. I can see both Rider students and Trenton kids growing together every spring.”

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