Best Projects 2018 features all the nominated entries submitted to the Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition under ‘Submit your Project’ category. All the entries consist of innovative projects run by existing enterprises in the form of businesses, NGOs or informal programs. If you want to know the 10 finalists in this category click HERE
Friends Connect Foundation a New Jersey Nonprofit Corporation (NP)
Explain your project in details:
Our nonprofit's goal is to empower and promote the social inclusion of all individuals with special needs with an emphasis on the inclusion of teens with disabilities. The ultimate goal for our special needs participants is to have them comfortably participate in social situations at work and academic environments after they acquire new talents, improved self-confidence, and effective social skills at Friends Connect Foundation's programs. Our organization teaches participants different skills through fun and meaningful activities. We ensure that all of our programs are effective and appropriate by having a team of volunteers, parents, trustees, health professionals, and special needs certified instructors review the details of each program before they are made available to our volunteers and participants for registration. We prepare our participants for the workplace through our Social Skills and Community Service Social Programs. Our Social Skills Program educates participants about key components of interaction such as age-appropriate conversational phrases. The Community Service Social Program is composed of activities such as production line piece-work, packaging, and artwork creation. These services and creations are donated to our local nonprofit partners. Through our Fitness, Self-Expression, and Music programs, we create opportunities for our participants to learn useful skills that can be applied at various work environments and social situations. These opportunities include designing murals, learning new yoga positions, participating in cardiovascular workouts, and learning how to play instruments. Our organization's priority is to provide participants with opportunities for skill development through activities that neurotypical individuals have often been exposed to at academic environments or extra-curricular programs.
Impact of your enterprise on sustainable development
Friends Connect Foundation's primary objective is to reduce inequalities between special needs individuals and the neurotypical population. Our organization evaluates its programs' success by surveying its participants, volunteers, and staff. We also monitor a public forum on social media that facilitates conversations between the public, parents, and supporters of our organization. Prior to the formation of Friends Connect Foundation, our founder launched sample events to gauge public interest. Within three months of the events being hosted, we received over one-hundred supporters on various social media platforms, eighty members registered in our database, two nonprofits interested in partnering, and a feature in five different editions of The Journal NJ. Because our organization formed only recently, we are still planning our programs for 2018, but we anticipate a high turn-out rate based on the amount of outreach from the community. Sustainable Development Goal 10 Indicator 10.3.1 states that, "a large proportion of the population reported having personally felt discriminated against or harassed within the previous 12 months on the basis of a ground of discrimination prohibited under international human rights law". Our organization seeks to eradicate discrimination and harassment by fostering accepting environments that educate the community about neurodiversity so that our society can become more considerate and accepting. Our social media also educates the community about the various ways that special needs individuals can apply their unique abilities. This is done through posts that showcase the participants completing various activities during our events.
Sustainability and future plans
By extending more partnership opportunities to local nonprofit organizations, businesses, schools, and governmental agencies, our organization expects to increase awareness of society's neurodiversity through informational advertising, to create opportunities for integration in work and academic environments through community partnerships, and to provide opportunities for social skills development through new programs. Sources of funding include grants from private foundations and corporations, sponsorships with local businesses and large corporations, recurring donations from the public, online crowdfunding, school-affiliated fundraisers through various clubs' "Friends Connect Foundation subcommittees", and member-initiated fundraisers. We are also working with local print shops and jewelry manufacturers to sell merchandise designed by our volunteers and participants at Self-Expression Social Program events. We are taking the necessary steps towards becoming businesses' beneficiary for annual fundraisers and outings. Our organization structure consists of a Board of Trustees, Executive Staff, and Event Staff. The Board of Trustees is composed of committees that are responsible for duties such as fundraising, reviewing programs, and overseeing financials. Our executive staff oversees the daily operations, marketing, and program development of the corporation. Our event staff consists of administrative roles such as Volunteer, Media, and Participant Coordinators and program-specific roles such as Activity Leaders, Activity Assistants, and "Buddy" volunteers. After we perfect the operations of our first location, it is our Founder's dream to open up other chapters around the nation. To do this, we would make amendments to our by-laws that allow for a chapter-model, and we would create a portfolio for new chapters. This portfolio would include details about staffing, funding sources, forming events, recruiting members, approaching sponsors, and other information that is necessary for the formation of new chapters.
Your profile as an entrepreneur
When Sophia Ziajski was sixteen years old she created sample events to determine the public's potential interest in her idea to form a nonprofit. She officially formed her idea into an organization entitled Friends Connect Foundation (NP) in 2018 at seventeen years old. Sophia has volunteered for another nonprofit organization for five years and learned American Sign Language (ASL) through her special needs friends at the events. She then taught ASL to a group of special needs children twice per week in middle school. Sophia observed that her students and special needs friends were unsatisfied with local nonprofits and programs because they had long waitlists, were strictly sports-oriented, tended to accept more elementary-school-aged participants, or did not heavily emphasize the importance of forming long-term friendships. There were no existing organizations within the tri-state area that allowed for teens with special needs to participate in different kinds of activities while forming long-lasting friendships. This realization motivated Sophia to establish her own non-profit organization. Before considering forming a nonprofit, Sophia initially pitched the idea of Comprehensive Fiscal Sponsorship to over twenty-five different nonprofits. Less than ten replied, and three never followed through with their expressed interest. However, with much determination, Sophia found a lawyer, discussed her options, got a job to pay for legal expenses, and formed her 501(c)(3) organization. Sophia has received multiple forms of recognition for the challenges she overcame in forming her organization. She was published in five editions of the Journal NJ and received special recognition from the judges of the Prudential Spirit of The Community Awards. She was also awarded the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for over one-hundred-fifty hours of service that she dedicated towards researching how to form a nonprofit business entity as a teenager and for operating her nonprofit with minimal help from adults.