Fast Talk: Rising Up

Community Reinvestment Fund, USA aids community-development lenders nationwide by purchasing their loans and offering training and development.

David Scheck, 40

President of New Jersey Community Capital
Newark, New Jersey

"As a socially responsible financial institution, New Jersey Community Capital has very significant capital restraints. So when a school or organization comes to us and says it needs $5.3 million -- as TEAM Academy did in late 2005 so it could purchase property and open a new middle school in time for the fall 2006 term -- we scratch our heads and figure out how to do that for them. CRF gives us the flexibility to do that by providing us the opportunity to originate loans at a local level. We sell loans to CRF, which frees up capital for our $100 million portfolio. I like to think of CRF as the Fannie Mae of community development loans.

When the TEAM Academy came to us, it had already chosen the building it wanted to buy. The building was formerly a private Catholic school located one mile from the ground zero of civil unrest of Newark riots. It's an area in which the median family income is about $22,000, 35% below the statewide median. It has a 15.5% unemployment rate, where the rest of the state averages 5%. The old Catholic school had closed in 2003 because a lot of people in that area couldn't afford to pay the tuition. The property itself had fallen into disrepair. The site had all the copper stolen out of it. It was heavily vandalized, graffiti strewn. Guard dogs roamed the halls at night, because people kept breaking into it.

The idea was to turn a landmark building into a quality school and thereby anchor the neighborhood--which, it's pretty safe to say, had been disinvested. When we dug into the weeds into TEAM Academy, we had the feeling of a quality organization run by a quality group of people who know how to keep the eye on the ball both in terms of educating young people in the city of Newark and from the standpoint that there was good financial and operating controls in place. With CRF's help, we were able to lend TEAM $2.5 million loan as part of a total $5.3 million deal to create its new school, called RISE Academy. And when we see the power and the joy and the ecstasy of the RISE students excited about being in school and loving it, in an area where you just don't usually see that kind of thing normally -- that's exciting to us."

Adella Pierre, 11

Sixth grader at Rise Academy, class of 2014
Newark, New Jersey

"I am in the sixth grade at Rise Academy, class of 2014. I went to Avon Avenue Public Elementary School before Rise. A teacher came in [two years ago] with applications [to attend Rise] and she asked students if they would want to fill one out. I decided I wanted to go and literally forced my mother to sign it. In a regular public school there isn't much of a good education. Ever since kindergarten, I've been at the top of my class. I had what they thought was an eighth grade reading level. In my classes, everyone was reading stuff at a first- to third-grade level. It was easy to pass.

At Rise Academy, it's really been challenging to me. You have to wake up early in the morning and stay late. The things we learn are stuff students learn at the eighth grade or ninth grade, something my friends at Avon say their older sisters and brothers do in high school. Last year, in the fifth grade, we learned a lot about the government and what the three branches do. Then we got to go to Washington, D.C., to see the Capitol and memorials, important government buildings.

Education is really important to me. Nobody in my family has a college education. I'm going to be the first. My mom is an assistant at a day-care center. My dad works at an auto-repair shop in Florida. I have six sisters and four brothers. They're all older. The oldest is 37. For college, I'm thinking about going to Spellman. I guess I've always known that if I got an education it would help me help my family do a lot of the things they wouldn't be able to do, like probably help my mother. She has some health problems. Rise really helps you learn more and makes you think about what you're doing. Education helps you get to where you want to be in life and with education you can do anything you want to do. I love science and math. Right now, I really want to be a United Nations ambassador. I'm into politics and world peace. The world is something I want to change, and if I get out there and try my best, I think I can do it."

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