Community Foundation of New Jersey

A Look Back, Part 7: The Role of National Foundations

Ira Resnick, then-chief program officer at the Community Foundation, speaks to community leaders at a POPS information session in Jersey City.

While major corporations have supported much of CFNJ’s programming, so too have national foundations that seek to address community issues on a wide scale. Given CFNJ’s strength in community programming in New Jersey, it has been a natural partner to numerous national foundations seeking to make a difference in the state.

One highly successful example of this is CFNJ’s partnership with the Ford Foundation and the Charles S. Mott Foundation. At the time, these two national foundations came together to try to strengthen inter-group relations between new immigrants and longtime residents in local communities.

New Jersey’s high number of immigrants made the state an excellent laboratory for the new program, if only CFNJ could determine the best way to go about achieving the two foundations’ goals.

A group session at a POPS event in Jersey City.

CFNJ’s staff, led by then-chief program officer Ira Resnick, spent months analyzing the major social needs in communities with large minority populations. In many of the urban populations, the major quality of life issues were crime, availability of employment, public education, and environmental degradation. Ultimately the staff concluded that the education of children was the common denominator – something that is important to all families regardless of their immigration status.

And so CFNJ successfully pitched a program to Ford and Mott called the Parents Organizing Parents Strategy (POPS). The program’s main goal was to strengthen the connections between parents and their children’s schools, thereby strengthening the relationships among all parents.

CFNJ partnered with the Princeton Center for Leadership Training to develop the program further, including creating a set of goals, strategies, and a curriculum. Once implemented, POPS offered parents the opportunity to build skills that help improve student success. Parents who participated in the program learned how to conduct group workshops in their school communities and were eligible to receive grants toward additional student achievement programs.

A graduation of POPS parent-leaders.

“I liked that we were empowering people,” remembers Stuart Sendell, a former CFNJ board chair. “By actively going into these schools and helping newly-arrived immigrants navigate the system and learn how to play a more active role in their children’s education was enormously valuable.”

The program first focused on two cities, Jersey City and Elizabeth, but by 2002 had expanded to include Passaic, Perth Amboy, Plainfield, Irvington, Union City, and Union Township. POPS was one of CFNJ’s most recognizable community programs, with additional funds coming from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Charles Emil Thenen Foundation.