When my friend Rafael Cuellar contacted me about the Fiver Children’s Foundation, my reaction was, “What’s a Fiver?”
Rafael is the CEO of Shop Rite of Passaic/Clifton and serves on several boards including both the board of directors of PriceRite and board of directors of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. A former Navy officer, he is a successful business leader and wields significant influence in the Hispanic community as well as in the general market. If Rafael likes and supports something it’s worth taking a look at. Rafael and his wife Mimi served as volunteers in supporting Fiver and assisting with their recent 2012 Benefit at Bridgewaters in New York City.
It turns out that “Fiver” is the Fiver Children’s Foundation and they’re doing wonderful work with kids with a focus on “empowering children to make positive life choices”. The Foundation is named after a fictional character from the novel Watership Down. The character, a small rabbit named Fiver, envisions a better future for his community and courageously overcomes numerous obstacles to achieve his vision.
The Fiver Children’s Foundation was established by 1998 by former financial executive Tom Tucker to serve children in need from the communities of New York City. The Foundation owns and operates Camp Fiver, a camp where children can go during the summer and learn while having fun. The Foundation operates throughout the year, offering a unique youth development program that makes a ten-year commitment to each child. From the ages of 8 to 18, the Fiver Children’s Foundation provides year-round mentoring and counseling, character literacy programs, summer internships and college access programs. Fiver kids also connect with a social network and resources based on partnerships with local schools, community organizations, and youth organizations.
When asked to share his thoughts on Fiver, Founder and Chairman Tom Tucker said, “The truly unique thing about Fiver is our 10 year commitment to each child. By starting with our kids at age 8, early enough to begin to have an impact, and staying with them through high school graduation, we are able to develop relationships with them that few adults can. This continuity of relationship, with a focus on character, allows us to have the trust and credibility necessary to have a major impact on their plans for the future. This is accomplished by having role models who not only stay with them throughout the year but are also with them over many years.”
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Hispanics account for 45% of the 550 children and teens currently served by Fiver. Eighty-five percent of the children and teens live the New York City area neighborhoods of Mott Haven, East Harlem, Harlem, Jackson Heights, Jamaica, East Elmhurst, Brownsville, Sunset Park, and East Flatbush. Six in ten of the program participants come from single parent homes and about half of the parents were born outside of the U.S. Most of the parents work in low-wage positions and the median family annual income is below $38,000. All of Fiver’s programs are provided free of charge to the participants and the 400 guests at the recent 2012 Benefit in New York City helped Fiver raise over $400,000 to help pay for those programs.
The results have been remarkable. The evaluation of the Fiver Children’s Foundation conducted by New York University reported that “across four summers, Fiver participants reported lower incidences of risky behaviors and higher incidences of healthy behaviors than norm groups of NYC children.” Of the 108 high school seniors who have completed their 10-year commitment with Fiver, 96% graduated from high school or received a GED. Of that same group 93% have enrolled in college, graduated from college, or are serving in the military. This clearly shows that the Fiver’s Program gives kids a direction to success.
Rafael Cuellar observed, “Fiver takes at-risk youth and helps them become great citizens who are valuable assets to their communities”. “One of the main reasons Fiver is successful is because its immersive culture becomes embedded in the kids’ hearts,” said Executive Director Christie Ko. “It’s more than a program to the 550 children enrolled and more than 150 alumni. Fiver is an extended family. Children do not just attend Fiver programs, they become Fivers.”
With the Hispanic youth often facing onerous obstacles to success and the Hispanic community facing a high-school dropout rate of around 50%, it’s very encouraging to hear about a bright spot – a program that not only works, but works wonders in the lives of children, teens, and their families.
Pablo Schneider is CEO of The Wider Net and a Special Advisor to AP Capital Holdings.