LI nonprofit gets $20,500 Stanford University grant
Dennis Negron is far from Long Island these days.
He just completed his first year at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and is in the Philippines for the first of two summer internships that also will take him to Myanmar.
But he hasn't forgotten his Long Island roots and the people at Family & Children's Association, a Mineola-based nonprofit group, who helped him transition from a high school dropout to a Stony Brook University honors graduate now pursuing an MBA at Stanford.
For Negron, 26, Family & Children's has been a lifeline, sheltering him since he was a teenager after his elderly grandmother became too ill to take care of him.
Now, through his efforts, a fundraiser that Stanford's business school students hold annually, called GSB Gives Back, has awarded Family & Children's a $20,500 grant for its transitional, independent living program in Freeport. Negron was a resident of the program, called Walkabout for Young Men and Women, from age 18 to 20.
"We had to do a campaigning process, stating why the charity was important," Negron said by phone from California recently. "I sent out an email -- it was one paragraph -- on why Family & Children's was important to me and how the money would be used. I highlighted the shelters." He lived in another Family & Children's shelter for three years before going to Walkabout.
Negron said Family & Children's was one of four charities advocated by Stanford students that received grants, out of 20 that were considered. A university spokeswoman confirmed the Long Island nonprofit was one of the beneficiaries.
Staff members at Family & Children's Association are grateful.
Andrea Kerr, Walkabout's program coordinator, said Negron had spoken of trying to win the grant for Family & Children's.
"Dennis told me he was going to do it, but he didn't want to share his personal story to do it," Kerr said. "He was looking for some vignettes. At the last minute he said, 'You know what? I'm going to talk about myself.' I think that's really what got him to win the award. . . . It was from the heart."
Tracy Catalanotti, who worked with Negron at Walkabout, said, "It was brave of him to do that, and generous of him to do that. That's Dennis."
Kerr added, "We recently lost a large grant that was our major financial support. So this is definitely going to help us out."
The grant comes as Family & Children's holds its annual fundraiser Tuesday at the Swan Club in Roslyn, where it will award scholarships to young people.
Negron, who got his GED while at Walkabout, received a Family & Children's scholarship that helped him with tuition at Nassau Community College, where he earned an associate degree. He graduated summa cum laude from Stony Brook in 2011, with a bachelor of science degree in business management, the university confirmed. He worked at Citigroup until he enrolled in Stanford, he said.
Tim McHeffey, an adjunct professor at Stony Brook who mentored Negron on an independent study project about alleviating poverty in India, said his former student "stood out" and was "probably one of the most caring, sincere students -- and what especially impressed me, he thought deeper than anybody I ever met."
Negron, who spoke with Newsday the day before he traveled to the Philippines, recalled the guidance he received at Walkabout.
A requirement -- along with mandating work and school -- called for the young residents, aged 16 to 20, to set goals and a strategy to achieve their aims.
"At first I didn't take it seriously," Negron said. "At 18, I just didn't see the value of it. Until one day, a social worker there, Tracy Catalanotti, said, 'We're going to sit here until you give real goals.' She said, 'You're going to tell me what you're going to get out of this place. You're going to tell me what you want in life.' And to be honest, I didn't know. We sat there for a few hours, and we talked through it."
Catalanotti, now assistant director of Family Solutions, another Family & Children's program, said, "I recall that quite well." Negron may have balked at first, she said, but he always had focus and a keen intelligence, calling him "exceptional."
Once Negron "decided to get serious and make those goals," she said, "there was no stopping him."