Rutgers club empowers people with Autism through popcorn

<p>Approximately 80 students make up the Rutgers chapter of Enactus, which uses entrepreneurship to provide nonprofits in the New Brunswick area with training and resources needed to continue operating over the long term.</p>

Approximately 80 students make up the Rutgers chapter of Enactus, which uses entrepreneurship to provide nonprofits in the New Brunswick area with training and resources needed to continue operating over the long term.

The Rutgers chapter of Enactus is part of an international organization that supports community projects and provides long-term solutions to local businesses through employment and charitable activities. 

The organization is currently helping the nonprofit Popcorn for the People, which hires and trains people on the Autism spectrum to make and sell gourmet popcorn. 

It recently worked with the company to provide popcorn at Rutgers sports games.

Eugene Gentile, the director of the Office of Career Management in the Rutgers Business School and the faculty advisor of Enactus, said the organization tries to create long-term entrepreneurial solutions.

“What I find is that most of the time volunteer models eventually fail. Most of the time because they can be too labor intensive,” Gentile said. “We provide entrepreneurial solutions, this way an organization can continue to operate after a chapter leaves. We go in, set up a project and make sure that it can operate on it’s own, then (go) back out.”

Tiffany Fong, a Rutgers Business School senior, is the vice president of Enactus. Fong has kept the chapter focused on local issues and said that it centers on helping nonprofits in the Rutgers and New Brunswick area. 

This year, the chapter is looking to become involved with Vets4Warriors, a campus-based organization that helps veterans in the United States by providing services ranging from charitable donations to mental health services. It also provides a hotline that can connect veterans to professionals or other veterans.

Last spring, the chapter had the chance to compete in the regional and national competitions with other college chapters of Enactus. At the competitions, different chapters presented work and made connections with other nonprofits for the future. 

“It was a really great and eye-opening experience for us to meet other teams and present on our work and our projects,” Fong said. “It has inspired us to really expand our reach and add nearly five new projects by the end of the semester.”

Enactus’s most important contribution is that it creates a long-lasting impact for nonprofits so they can continue to help the community without having to rely on things like grants or volunteer services, Gentile said. Because of this, an organization can continue to do charitable work without worrying about things like cutbacks or lack of funds.

“Volunteer work is an important part of society in order to help others, but the Enactus model is a way of supplying both longevity and most importantly, self-sufficiency” Gentile said.

The Rutgers chapter has approximately 80 members involved on campus and is expecting to have more members and more ambitious goals by the end of the year, Fong said. 

Overall, Enactus is an international nonprofit organization that operates in more than 1,700 different universities and has approximately 72,000 student participants annually, according to the organization’s website. 

“At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter how many members the chapter has, it’s more so who’s passionate and who is willing to put in the time and gain something from this experience,” Fong said.

Although the Enactus chapter at the University has only been in operation for five years, Gentile said he is confident in the students. He said one of the former co-presidents of the chapter who started their own chapter in Italy as proof that this organization can make a worldwide difference. 

He said he hopes that everyone involved with the chapter will continue to change the world.

“What amazes me is the energy level and focus that is remarkable in these younger people,” Gentile said. "They see the end and push toward it while managing their projects. This group in particular is outstanding in the Enactus world, and that’s saying a lot.”

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