Rutgers Enactus pioneers sustainable change in New Brunswick
Enactus is a non-profit social entrepreneurship organization that aims to develop sustainable community empowerment projects and to improve the quality of life for people in need.
The Enactus chapter at Rutgers University was chartered in 2014 and has since gone on to win the Enactus National Exposition, according to the club website.
“The organizations we support aren’t necessarily about the monetary gain, it's more about the social cause behind them,” said Cynthia Lyn, director of recruitment for Rutgers Enactus and a Rutgers Business School junior.
Enactus chapters find social issues such as homelessness that affect communities and create projects to sustainably address them, said Schatze Palen, vice president of Rutgers Enactus and a Rutgers Business School senior.
“Instead of providing the homeless with food for a day, we figure out what is causing this and create a project like helping the homeless find a sustainable job," Palen said. “We see a disparity between the Rutgers University campus and New Brunswick.”
Rutgers Enactus has partnered with existing organizations based in New Brunswick to address some of the most prevalent needs in the city, Palen said. One of their main projects is Youth Empowerment Services (YES), a local nonprofit, that provides after-school tutoring and mentoring for at-risk New Brunswick youth.
Because YES is nonprofit, it runs solely off of donations and grants and it is not widely known in the community, Lyn said.
“If people don’t know about it, they cannot donate to it, which makes YES very financially draining for the people who run the program," Lyn said.
Rutgers Enactus recently added more structure to YES programs by creating a curriculum for citizenship classes, taught by the organization’s founder, Barry Smith, she said.
They are currently piloting "Keep it REAL (Rising Entrepreneurs Aspiring Leaders)," a program within YES that teaches entrepreneurial skills to high school students.
“Our project directly empowers the youth of New Brunswick to live a better life socially, economically and academically,” said Matthew Canale, project marketing lead for Keep it REAL and a Rutgers Business School sophomore.
Rutgers Enactus also organizes "Popcorn for the People," a program that employs local adults on the autism spectrum by creating and selling gourmet popcorn. This program gives adults opportunities to gain hard skills that they might not otherwise have the chance to learn, said Camille Suarez, the director of marketing and a Rutgers Business School senior.
Projects can last anywhere from one to 10 years, depending on their size, complexity and the chapter leading it. The organization ensures that the project is self-sustaining before they step away from it, Palen said.
All chapter members work directly on one of the projects and oversee any executive board roles they might have. In addition to leading weekly marketing initiatives, Suarez works directly with Popcorn for the People, she said.
Currently, the chapter is focused on preparations for an annual competition between regional, and eventually national, Enactus chapters across the country.
“Enactus as an organization believes that competition brings out the best ideas,” Lyn said.
Last year during its premier appearance at the competition the Rutgers chapter made it to regional and nationals competitions. Lyn said due to this, she feels there is a standard to live up to.
The chapter faced some early challenges in 2014, with member retention and members not having a clear understanding of the organization’s mission, Lyn said.
She addressed these issues by developing a four-week program for new members where they gain a deeper understanding of the needs in New Brunswick and best practices for developing sustainable solutions to these needs, she said.
Canale said he believes Enactus is the perfect organization for students of all majors and backgrounds who are passionate about making a positive difference in their community. This is because Enactus members are deeply involved with the greater New Brunswick community and recognize the need for more consistent involvement throughout the student body.
“For me, Enactus is really the opportunity to try to make a difference in our community,” Suarez said. “We have to think long term. We have to think differently about service. If students really want to make a true difference in the community, they need to start digging deeper.”
Gabriela Amaral is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @sentientfog