Giving back against all odds: former at-risk youth Christine Carter raises millions for underprivileged families in Newark, New Jersey.[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
THE EXPERIENCE AND MEMORIES OF BEING LEFT HOME overnight at the age of 5 to care for her infant brother made Christine Carter commit to caring for at-risk youth, which she identifies as those with drug-addicted parents or who have been growing up in poverty without basic resources.
"My mother didn't return home for days on end. I didn't know what to do so I took my brother to kindergarten with me one day and the school called DYFS (Department of Youth and Family Services). That was my first memory of being involved in child protection services," Carter recalls.
By the age of 7 her mother had died of complications from HIV/AIDS, forcing Carter and her brother to live with abusive family members or in foster homes. Carter recalls being bounced between public housing projects, motels, the local YMCA, group homes, and sometimes even left to sleep on the streets of Newark, New Jersey. Fortunately, by the time she was a senior at Clifford J. Scott High School in East Orange, her teacher and class adviser, Faythe Allen, encouraged Carter to go to college and helped her through the application process. Carter went on to study at Norfolk State University and graduated with a bachelor's in social work in 2003.
Now, at the age of 30, Carter is able to give back to the same Newark community where she lived amid drugs and poverty, through her nonprofit, The Against All Odds Foundation (www.againstalloddsnj.org), which she started in 2004.
To fund the foundation Carter took $90,000 from a home equity loan and borrowed from friends. She initially envisioned turning a residence into a 24-bed transitional living facility, but later modified the program to provide education services because state funding wasn't available to operate transitional housing.
In 2006 she incorporated as a 501(c)(3) and provides tutoring, life skills, financial literacy, and public service to students in grades K-12, as well as social services to the general public throughout the state of New Jersey. Since 2007, Against All Odds has served more than 10,000 scholars with 97% of them having improved their math skills, and 96% having enhanced their language arts skills. About 99% of scholars have improved their academic performance and behavior in their homes and at school.
Today, Against All Odds' education services component generates its largest source of funding and programming. Roughly 90% of its $2 million budget is derived from federal Department of Education grants, which are used to staff 15 full-time paid employees and 150 part-time employees. The organization also has more than 50 volunteers. Other funding comes from individuals, such as the $10,000 donation given collaboratively by talk show host Wendy Williams and Procter & Gamble Co.'s My Black is Beautiful campaign after Carter appeared on The Wendy Williams Show in February.
"My personal story is the sole reason why I'm in this position," says Carter, whose nonprofit also operates one of Newark's Family Success Centers, located in the Seth Boyden public housing projects where she once lived.
In 2007 the City of Newark created an initiative with a mission to strengthen families and neighborhoods by developing networks of comprehensive services and resources that promote child and family well-being with the goals of seeing fewer cases of child abuse and neglect, and keeping children out of the foster care system. Since she doesn't receive funding for the center she operates she uses $250,000 from her nonprofit's operating budget to keep the doors open. Carter meets monthly with 11 other independent nonprofits who also run Family Success Centers to exchange ideas, discuss funding opportunities, and share events and certification opportunities.
The success center offers families services such as healthcare enrollment, referrals to drug and alcohol treatment centers, gang prevention, job readiness, and effective parenting skills. The center serves the hundreds of families that reside in and around the Seth Boyden projects.
"Every day we have young people who are not on the streets because they are coming to my community center. We have a parent who is in rehab because I picked her up in my car and drove her to rahab. Those are the successes for me, and that's real for me," says Carter, explaining why she funds the center despite city budget cuts.
HOW SHE DID IT
* Build strong relationships in the community. "Relationships and collaborations are key," says Carter. "You need letters of support for grants and you need to prove to funders that you are collaborating with other organizations," she says of the funding process. She says funders and government agencies favor groups that partner with two or three other organizations. "They no longer want us operating in silos and independently." Carter strongly advises that anyone seeking to start a nonprofit start networking now. "You need political officials and community leaders to know who you are. You need everyone to know you and rally around your cause." For example, she has collaborated with organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Initiatives for Peace, the Financial Empowerment Center, Newark Housing Authority, and Trinity Reformed Church/Safe Haven Urban Redemption, just to name a few.
* Make personal sacrifices. "I didn't take a salary or have health insurance or a regular paycheck for four years," explains Carter. "That was hard. Friends and family invested in me and gave me money to fund Against All Odds, and I took a second mortgage out on my home. Everyone doesn't need to make such a drastic personal financial sacrifice like I did. That is the extreme, but you must have some finances in the game. You have to bring money to the table. Budget very wisely, and take at least a year prior to leaving your career to save up. After leaving my full-time job I also did some consulting with other organizations to make sure I had some money coming in. I paid my original staff out of my own pocket and had $150,000 for the first four years to operate the agency." Running a nonprofit takes as much discipline and planning as running any business, so be prepared to live without for a while. "If it's not something you would do without a paycheck, it's not something you should do," she warns.
* Incorporate as a nonprofit. Anyone looking to start a nonprofit should contact the appropriate office within their state's government for the 501(c) (3) filing application, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and any other required documents. Incorporating your nonprofit allows you to apply for grants and other public or private allocations available only to IRS 501(c)(3) organizations, as well as exemptions from federal and/or state corporate income taxes, among other benefits.
The 10 Wealth for Life Principles
1 I will live within my means.
2 I will maximize my income potential through education and training.
3 I will effectively manage my budget, credit, debt, and tax obligations.
4 I will save at least 10% of my income.
5 I will use homeownership as a foundation for building wealth.
6 I will devise an investment plan for my retirement needs and children's education.
7 I will ensure that my entire family adheres to sensible money management principles.
8 I will support the creation and growth of minority-owned businesses.
9 I will guarantee my wealth is passed on to future generations through proper insurance and estate planning.
10 I will strengthen my community through philanthropy.