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Nandini Singh: Nurturing Successful Scholars in Trenton, New Jersey

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hi! It’s me, Spiffy the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with the latest scoop on entrepreneurs making a difference in the world. Today’s rockstar is Nandini Singh, the Program and Development Manager of HomeWorks Trenton, the first after school residential program in Trenton, New Jersey. Let’s see how Nandini and her team are working on UN SDG 4: Quality Education. Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Welcome Nandini! I am thrilled to hear about your exciting work! Can you tell me what challenge you are addressing?

Nandini: Thanks so much for having me, Spiffy. Well, did you know that Black and Brown girls face unique oppressive challenges in America? They experience a high rate of interpersonal violence; feel less safe at over-policed schools; may resort to ‘acting out’ when their counseling needs are disregarded; and receive disproportionate punitive punishment (Crenshaw). In Trenton, 34 % of families live below the poverty level. Consequently, 36% of Trenton high school students are chronically absent and 32% do not graduate from high school. The lack of institutional and federal support has led to 90% of Trenton’s public school students not meeting Math State Standards and 80% not meeting English State Standards. Spiffy: You’ve taught me something new already! So, what motivated you to invest in this educational divide?

Nandini: I am inspired to build community leaders that have a vested interest in improving their home communities! It is amazing to see the connection and sisterhood that our scholars build with each other and our HomeWorks community—I learn so much from them every day.

Spiffy: That’s amazing! Can you tell me how you and HomeWorks are trying to make the world more equitable? Nandini: 80% of our board and staff, including all key staff who directly work with our scholars, are people of color. Our team engages in bi-weekly Culturally Responsive Training and commit to providing a safe, welcoming space for our scholars. Our staff and board members participate in anti-racist education, develop Black Lives Matter initiatives with community partners, and research ways to incorporate restorative healing and justice into HomeWorks culture. Tutors lead scholars through culturally-responsive curricula such as “Actualizing Queens and Women Warriors,” where scholars read about characters and storylines they can see themselves in. Spiffy: Have you reached any milestones lately? What kinds of impact have they had?

Nandini: We are finishing up our 2020-2021 Full Year Program—our first full year program! It was imperative that, as a community-based nonprofit, HomeWorks continued to provide academic enrichment, social-emotional programming, and an empowering community space for Black and Brown girls throughout the pandemic and beyond. To do so, we adapted our 2020-2021 Full Year Program to run from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every weekday for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. From September 2020 to June 2021, we will have provided scholars with 2,000 healthy lunch meals; 200 days of assistance with Virtual Schooling complete with transportation to our Trenton location; 180 hours of programming; and weekly fitness and wellness workshops.

Spiffy: I’m curious, Nandini, have you ever experienced failure? What did you learn from it? Nandini: When I first became the Program and Development Manager two years ago, I didn’t know anything about fundraising and writing grants. With the first few grants I wrote, I was rejected and failed to raise any money for HomeWorks. However, I reached out to mentors who had experience with fundraising and development to learn more about how to refine my writing. This taught me to reach out for help and to learn from people who had success and experience in fields I knew little about!

Spiffy: What is something surprising you’ve learned from someone recently?

Nandini: The HomeWorks House Mom, Erica, always reminds me, the scholars, and the rest of our team to take time to relax and have fun! That's something I always have to remind myself. As a team, we went on a field trip and I learned how to rock climb with them, which was fun and a great bonding experience!

Spiffy: I totally agree with Erica! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Nandini. It’s been an honor. Nandini Singh joined the HomeWorks team as Development and Program Manager in July, 2019. Since then, Nandini has helped raise over $250,000 and led operations and logistics of both the 2019 and 2020 programs. A graduate of The College of William and Mary, Nandini studied health sciences and economics. She loves hiking, cooking, and playing with her two dogs. (Nominated by Impact Hub New York. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 25, 2021.)

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here. The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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