Tamer Marshood’s nonprofit, Feeding by Reading, started off as an idea developed during a NJIT business class and through dedication and guidance from Anthony Basile and other SCOREBergen mentors, his program is now a part of Irvington, NJ schools and Tamer is in talks to partner with other organizations and go international with the program.
“Two years ago, I was at a point in my life where I was trying to figure out the next thing I wanted to do. I previously worked in the music industry in LA, but [eventually] the day came that I needed a new direction and I moved back to New Jersey,” Tamer said.
Tamer began studying mechanical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He began formulating the idea for Feeding by Reading in 2013. “Every night I started brainstorming business ideas, 5-10 minutes every night, of strategizing. I came up with new ideas and as a result, the concept for this program came to mind. I originally thought of it as a class project for kids, like a walk-a-thon but with books. Then I thought of the component to feed hungry kids. I just let it sit and cook in my mind for a while. The more I thought of it, the more it came together. It’s really funny to see how far I’ve come – looking back from those days to where it is now.”
Tamer entered a fellowship contest for startups hosted by the school and won. “That’s when I really knew I had something,” he said.
In early 2014, Tamer got to work on refining the program so it was ready to launch. “I ended up finding SCORE online while doing research on starting a nonprofit,” he said. “I had spoken to someone with SCORE years ago, so when I saw the name I had an idea of who they were. It was very easy and I thought, ‘This is perfect.’” Tamer went to bergen.score.org, the SCOREBergen website, and requested an appointment. “Within a few weeks I had a meeting with Anthony Basile and Frank Melchior,” he said. “They were very easy to deal with and were on time with correspondence.”
Two in three fourth graders aren’t reading at grade level (among low-income households, four in five aren’t reading at grade level) and 15.8 million children live in food-insecure homes.
“Feeding by Reading is a read-a-thon pledge drive where kids read books to raise money to feed hungry kids in their community,” Tamer said. “Here’s the way it works: children participating in the program read books and ask sponsors to make a donation to support them. The money they raise goes to a local food pantry that feeds hungry kids in their community.” Feeding by Reading decides where the money gets designated with input from participating school systems, communities, and local government.
* For more information on Feeding by Reading or to become a sponsor, visit feedingbyreading.org
Feeding by Reading lets schools and the children decide which books to read. Communities may or may not require assistance in providing books to the children. “For the programs we've held so far in which the children needed books, our organization provided books to the children. Last year we provided about 1500 books to Irvington,” Tamer said.
Tamer is dedicated to making sure money isn’t a hindrance for schools who want to participate in the program. “It’s one of the more challenging parts of our operation due to the costs involved,” he said. “My aim is to find larger companies willing to donate books to children for our program … I'm seeking out publishing companies as well as retailers.”
The children or the schools program keep the books. Readers may ask family and friends for contributions to local organizations. “Kids in lower income areas may experience challenges raising money,” Tamer said. “The program is also set up so that to anyone may sponsor a reader. [This way,] children who haven’t been able to raise funds on their own can still make a difference simply by reading!”
Tamer’s seeking funding to provide more books to students in need and is always open to working with publishing companies. Additionally, he’s interested in working with an author to create a children’s book based on the Feeding by Reading culture. “We're currently looking into the possibility of setting up libraries for the schools we work with,” Tamer said. “What we'd like to create a situation where each child get at least one book to keep and then has access to a library of books that the school is able to keep for all the children to enjoy.”
Tamer’s also considering expanding his market. “The program is open to schools, libraries, religious organizations and youth groups – both here and abroad. We may be bringing the organization to India as well as Uganda,” he said. “Things are starting to grow and build.”
“SCOREBergen made a huge contribution in many ways. Through SCORE I found other contacts; it was great that they were so up-to-date and aware. [Their assistance in setting up the] structure of the program, how it runs, and making sure everything’s in place to take it to the next level – that alone was invaluable to the success of the program so far.
“They have so much experience and so much valuable guidance came out of it. My SCORE team provided wisdom and direction that you only get from someone with years in business. Much of the guidance included advice on how to deal with people and starting and developing business relationships. We also dug deep into the details of my program—further than I had previously gone on my own. We really broke down my program and organization. We created operational charts and developed our ideas on paper.
“SCORE helped me put my website together and they provided such great feedback on how things work. I was really impressed with how much effort they put into it -- I wasn’t just a random meeting for them, they behaved as though they had as just as much invested in the project as I did.
“Vital elements of the program came out of discussions that we had. For example: Reading Points (points children earn for reading that they can accumulate to win prizes). During one of our meetings, we were discussing the process with which to track students’ reading and the challenges that could arise. Our reading points concept was born in that SCORE meeting.
“One great thing about conversations in SCORE meetings is it brings things back to reality what’s happening [in the] now. Meeting with the counselors every few weeks realigns your thoughts and direction. As an entrepreneur, that’s an under-appreciated element. You’ve got to be able to take care of what’s in front of you and SCORE keeps the needle pointed north.
“My mentors and I became friends and they were very much involved. SCORE was a big element that led to Feeding by Reading’s success.”
“It’s great practice for starting a company. If you’re starting a project, you’ll have to meet with a lot of people and you can use meetings with SCORE as practice sessions to present your company, elevator pitch, and yourself. How we sell ourselves as individuals is important and SCORE gives you a forum in which to train so you’re ready for your first face-to-face. It’s very valuable. SCORE helped me strengthen that skill and present myself in that realm.”
“Frank Melchoir told me to make sure I kept a reign on things and that this can easily grow out of control. That concept shined through this whole process. He stressed the importance of growing at a manageable rate as there was still much to learn.
“Peter Loder once came in with a printout of every page of my website marked up. I wasn’t expecting that personal touch when I first signed up with SCORE. He [also] showed me holes in my business plan, which helped me refine my marketing and presentation.
“During this time I was meeting with Irvington, NJ school administrators and the Board of Education. Frank Melchior, Anthony Basile, Peter Loder, and Kristine Scheufele helped me prepare for meetings. They asked such great questions, the ones that needed to be asked, so the answers flew out of me when I met with education professionals. That was the best part about my relationship with SCORE: it was like having my own team and board of directors to consult."