Super-powered social entrepreneurs

T

here’s a new breed of entrepreneur in town. An altruistic type—visionary, determined and equipped with a strong moral compass—is tackling societal shortcomings with business prowess and a punch of passion. 

Some, like alumni Michael Lynch ’14 MPPA, and Michael Casper ’10 (Communication Studies), are addressing problems in their own neighborhoods. The duo founded Improve Your Tomorrow, a mentoring program for middle and high school boys that puts potentially at-risk youth on a path to—and through—college. 

Others are providing a local tie to a national effort. Former Sac State soccer stars Lisa Wrightsman ’05 (Communication Studies) and Tiffany Fraser ’09 (Communication Studies) are using sports to help homeless women overcome abuse and addiction through the soccer-based life-skills program Street Soccer USA.

Years ago, socially-minded individuals were known as humanitarians. Now, these change-makers are widely referred to as social entrepreneurs and their imprint on society is increasing. 

“There are so many needs out there,” says Heidy Sarabia, professor of sociology. “There are more and more opportunities to become socially responsible entrepreneurs because we have seen the downsizing of state and local governments. It’s just a matter of deciding where you want to contribute.”

Sarabia adds, “The logic behind social responsibility is the ethical question surrounding culture and the social and environmental relationships we have with each other and our surroundings. Many social entrepreneurs can see the impact of their efforts in the communities where they live.”

Scoring societal change

Tiffany Fraser and Lisa WrightsmanLisa Wrightsman '05 (left) and Tiffany Fraser '09 run the Sacramento branch of the sports-based life skills program Street Soccer USA.

Nonprofit groups are the fourth largest industry in California, representing 1 out of every 16 California jobs and generating $208 billion in annual revenue. 

Sacramento State alumni are hopping on that trend.

As former standout soccer players, Lisa Wrightsman and Tiffany Fraser know what it takes to create a winning team. In fact the coaching duo recently took their team to a very special World Cup. 

“It’s definitely not the World Cup I originally had in mind for my soccer career,” admits Wrightsman, a leading goal scorer in Hornet history. “But taking our ladies to the Homeless World Cup is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

The mission of Street Soccer USA is simple: Use soccer to teach personal empowerment and prepare participants for success.   

Women and families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, with 34 percent of the total homeless population composed of families and of those homeless families, 84 percent are headed by women. It has also been estimated that 50 percent of individuals who are chronically homeless have substance-use problems.1

Wrightsman says that over the last five years, 90 percent of Street Soccer Sacramento’s participants have maintained sobriety and connected to jobs, housing and education. 

As a former addict herself, Wrightsman was in a transitional housing program when she first learned about a street soccer program for men in similar circumstances. She eventually started coaching a women’s team, but realized she needed help with organizing and fundraising.  

Then came a chance encounter with Fraser. 

“Lisa had just returned from the Homeless World Cup and told me her story about finding a love of life through the game. It sounded a lot like what was missing in my own life,” shares Fraser. 

So the two teamed up with the goal of teaching women the skills needed to survive and thrive. 

“The first time I showed up for a practice, I saw players running the wrong direction and smoking on the sidelines,” adds Fraser. “But none of that matters in the long run. 

“We’re working on a curriculum of core life skills. We teach soccer and positioning on the field, but more importantly how to be supportive.” 

While former Hornets address homelessness off campus, current students are taking it on themselves to help displaced classmates. Associated Students has made housing a strategic priority, forming a task force to explore options for emergency shelter and other resources. Students also helped create a grant fund to provide financial assistance to those facing hardship. 

Twelve percent of students in a CSU study reported being homeless, says Danielle Munoz, case manager for Student Affairs. She’s found that shame can make them reluctant to ask for help but that’s changing.

“These are students who are eager to do the work, to graduate. They just have challenges,” Munoz says. “When they see their peers raising funds for the emergency fund, it reduces the stigma and it reduces isolation. It shows that they care.”

Recruiting players to the college game

Michael Casper and Michael LynchMichael Casper '10 (left) and Michael Lynch, MPPA '14  founded the mentoring program Improve Your Tomorrow.

The need to step in to help is also what drives Michael Casper and Michael Lynch.

“We didn’t want to be the ones who sat on the sidelines and complained about the issues. We wanted to get in the game and make a difference,” says Casper.

Casper and business partner Lynch know all too well the pitfalls, and potential, facing young men of color. As teenagers raised below the poverty line in single-parent homes, each struggled academically and was suspended. 

“We faced becoming another statistic,” recalls Lynch.

Instead, their paths took a more fortunate turn, including earning degrees from Sac State. But the close call inspired the duo to launch a non-profit college preparatory program for young men facing their own uncertain futures. 

Black and Latino students are far less likely to earn a college degree than their peers. Black students make up just 8 percent of first-time freshmen at four-year colleges.2 And just 15 percent of Hispanics ages 25 to 29 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“Growing up, I saw so many people around me who had so much potential and just didn’t do anything with their lives,” says Lynch, who recently stepped down as an aide in the California State Assembly to focus on the program full time. “We are here to show them how beneficial it is to pursue higher education.”

At Sac State, mentoring and other types of social and academic support have been shown to be effective not only keeping students on a path toward graduation, but in raising grade point averages, says Tina Jordan, director of the Peer and Academic Resource Center. The center offers student-led supplemental instruction, advising and tutoring in courses with high failure rates. Other programs are specifically designed to be culturally responsive to student populations at risk of dropping out.

“Cultural identity is important,” Jordan says. “Students need to feel included in the classroom. These programs give them a sense of belonging and help them develop confidence.”

Improve Your Tomorrow supports underrepresented boys from middle school, through college with tutoring, campus visits and one-on-one monthly mentoring.

To date, 100 percent of program participants graduated high school and 92 percent were accepted to four-year colleges, including 10 who are proud Hornets. 

“It’s an amazing feeling,” says Casper, branch manager at U.S. Bank. “To take these young men on college tours, and see their eyes open a little wider and realize that this could be their future if they just fine-tune some things and apply themselves.”

Sources:
1 American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
2 The Education Trust-West
3 Pew Research Center

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