Bestfoods always valued education. Based in Englewood Cliffs since 1968, it made corporate contributions to educational institutions in New Jersey, and Bestfoods Educational Foundation (BEF) paid toward the continuing education of its employees and the college educations of their children.
In 2001, when Bestfoods was acquired by Unilever, BEF came into considerably more money — and decided to shift its focus, to support only non-profit educational causes.
BEF chose organizations that:
- In some way shared the spirit and values of Bestfoods. Bestfoods had a strong and unassuming work ethic and the belief that success came “up from the roots.”
- Were small enough and at a point where BEF’s help could make a major difference.
- Were well known to at least one of BEF’s five trustees.
Because BEF’s five trustees had business backgrounds, they were able to help these organizations plan for the long-term. BEF advised and encouraged them to broaden their donor bases and raise money not only for current operating needs but also for endowments. To this end, BEF made not only outright grants but also challenge grants.
And BEF advised and encouraged these organizations to ask smart questions about their objectives and their means to achieve them.
BEF’s “up from the roots” ethos led it to focus on eight organizations that help minorities and/or low-income families. The three smallest are in New Jersey: The Lake Drive Foundation, Project Acorn and IMANI. In the last four to five years, BEF has given each more than $1 million.
The Lake Drive Foundation
Through its Sound Start Program, The Lake Drive Foundation aids infants and toddlers in low-income families in northern and central New Jersey who are deaf and hard of hearing. By providing comprehensive educational and therapeutic services during the first three years of life, Sound Start helps these children realize their full potential. At age three, about one third are mainstreamed into schools in their home communities. Two thirds continue in The Lake Drive school, which currently serves 200 children. While, nationally, half of all students with hearing loss do not receive high school diplomas, Lake Drive’s graduation rate is 100%.
Project Acorn funds preschool education in Morris and Somerset counties for three- and four-year-olds in low-income families who make too much to qualify for Head Start. Project Acorn’s mission is to seed the educational foundations for children of working families who want them to have the best possible start. Since its inception 15 years ago, it has provided half-day preschool for more than 500 children, some of whom are now approaching college age. The program keeps growing; last year 80 children were enrolled. And because these children are in school, their parents can get out into the world, for employment and/or education.
IMANI (Improving Montclair Achievement Network Initiative) partners with the Montclair Public Schools to give underserved minority students the same opportunities as their more advantaged peers. Through collaboration among parent volunteers, school district officials and community leaders, IMANI has made progress over the past ten years in closing the achievement gap. With programs in grades K-12, IMANI helps students succeed at every level, preparing and encouraging them to go to and graduate from college, particularly four-year colleges. IMANI hopes to expand its services to improve student performance, and level the playing field, beyond Montclair.
“We did what we set out to do.”
Over the years, BEF’s trustees had the satisfaction of seeing the tangible results of BEF’s grants. BEF added real value to these eight organizations — helping them do much for deserving children, their families and society.
By 2009, looking at this progress, the trustees felt their advice and encouragement was no longer needed. As Chairperson Dick Bergeman says, “We did what we set out to do.” So they decided to liquidate BEF and make final grants to these organizations
In the case of Lake Drive, Project Acorn and IMANI, these grants will be administered by Community Foundation of New Jersey. Thus the efforts of Bestfoods Educational Foundation live on, in the lives of New Jersey children.