Stepping Up to Bridge Academic Disparity: S.T.E.P. Academics, A Nonprofit Lending Story

Receiving a fulfilling and quality education is a basic necessity, yet many children fall behind because they lack essential academic services. That’s why Lauren Fofana, a former teacher & P.T.A. President made it her mission to provide Black and Brown students with weekend and after-school tutoring programs. As a Black woman living in a predominantly white school district in Georgia for many years, Lauren noticed firsthand the disparities between school performance in Black and Brown students and white students.

“I remember at one of our P.T.A. meetings we received testing data showing educational disparities for kids, particularly impacting younger boys of color. It was around the time the state invested into research about prison pipeline projections and who was more likely to fall into that system,” explains Lauren.

But Lauren knew she could do something. So in 2003, she founded a nonprofit organization, S.T.E.P. Academics. A team of K-12 diverse educators, coaches, and former principals, S.T.E.P. Academics provides educational experiences by supporting classroom teachers who teach children considered “academically challenged.”  95% of S.T.E.P. instructors are retired educators with over 20 years of experience.

Lauren’s dedication to supplementing education for disadvantaged students has been a success no matter where she goes. She ensures that S.T.E.P. Academics delivers the utmost quality and focus to every student, whether a school that needs extra assistance, a juvenile facility, or a homeless shelter.  Most recently, Lauren introduced S.T.E.P. Academics to the Yonkers School District. With a large grant from Yonkers, S.T.E.P. Academics was hired to deliver math and English tutoring services to public school students, grades K-5, in the Yonkers School District.  While the grant was great news for Lauren, there was only one issue—it was only paid upon completion of services, and Lauren did not have the working capital to do so.

That’s where we stepped in.

Lauren came to us in search of financial resources to deliver her tutoring services to the Yonkers School District. Though we have not had many opportunities to lend to nonprofits, we knew this was a moment where we could say yes. Given Lauren’s successful history with S.T.E.P. Academics and her commitment to advancing her mission, our decision to support her work with two small business loans and personalized guidance came with confidence and ease. Now, Lauren hopes to continue her work in Yonkers and other parts of Westchester County.

“We’re hoping to work with the Department of Social Services in Westchester, and we also just received a small grant from the city of Yonkers for after-school programs,” says Lauren.

We are honored to be a part of Lauren’s entrepreneurial journey and to have assisted her in expanding her services. For more on S.T.E.P. Academics, visit their website here: http://stepacademics.com/