Why This Oregon Nonprofit Is a Magnet for Money

Bolstering the skills, confidence, and life chances of at-risk kids of color is a super-hot funding area right now. But long before this trend got under way, the Oregon nonprofit, Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI) was doing trailblazing work in this area.

The organization's history dates back to 1981 when Tony Hopson Sr. began a one-week summer camp for high school boys. By 1990, he'd built an organization providing programs to at-risk youth that attracted national attention when it received a Point of Light Reward from President George H.W. Bush.  

Today, SEI is a 344-employee organization that runs a range of programs for at-risk youth, as well as their families and communities. SEI even has its own charter school, SEI Academy, when it opened in 2004.

A core premise of SEI's work is that young people can't succeed unless they grow up in families and communities that support their successwhich another is idea very much in fashion these days. So in addition to its central focus on youth, SEI also works on issues like employment, housing, parenting education, and even issues like energy assistance and domestic violence. 

That comprehensive approach is one reason why the group has been a magnet for philanthropic dollars over the years, pulling in different funders for different reasonsincluding many national foundations. A partial list of its national funders over the past decade includes the California Endowment, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the philanthropic arms of America's banks: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo. 

But SEI has done best with local foundations, raising money from many of the top funders in the Pacific Northwest. One long-time funder is the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, which began funding SEI not longer after opening its doors in 2002.

The foundation's latest grant to SEI is its biggest yet: $225,000 in "three year capacity building support for the expansion of academic supports to students" in the predominantly African American middle schools in the Jefferson High School cluster of Portland.