The winner of Invest in Others’ 2021 Catalyst Award is Ralph Ujano Jr. of The Ujano Advisory Group in McKinney, Texas, for his work with Helping Hands For Single Moms Dallas, which aims to end generational poverty and assists underserved single mom families.
“Ralph Ujano Jr. saw an opportunity to end generational poverty and started a nonprofit to tackle the issue head-on through education and resources for single moms,” said Megan McAuley, executive director of the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation. “Through his ongoing leadership and service to Helping Hands, Ralph has served as a catalyst for change for more than 1,500 women and their families.”
The foundation announced Ujano Jr. as the winner with a video presentation on Monday. The live celebration of the group’s 15th annual awards in Boston was canceled this year due to the ongoing pandemic. The winners of the other categories will be released similarly throughout this week.
Each of the finalists will receive $20,000 for their charities and Ujano Jr. will receive $50,000 for Helping Hands For Single Moms Dallas.
The following profiles of the Catalyst Award winner and the two finalists were written by Deborah Nason.
CATALYST AWARD WINNER RALPH UJANO JR.
CEO, The Ujano Advisory Group
Helping Hands for Single Moms has a very specific focus — helping low-income single mothers attending college — with a very broad ripple effect.
“There’s a multigenerational impact. When you can help that single mom, the first generation, get a college education, you’ve positioned the likelihood that one or more of her children will get one as well,” said Ralph Ujano Jr., CEO of The Ujano Advisory Group in McKinney, Texas, and founder of the Dallas chapter of the nonprofit.
“You’re creating a different future that has lasting impact,” Ujano said.
Participants in the competitive program must already be enrolled in college, with a minimum GPA of 2.8, and have incomes below the federal poverty level. More than half will graduate as nurses.
Helping Hands provides the women with a $200 monthly stipend and coverage for car repairs (the No. 1 problem for single moms, Ujano said), small emergency expenses, such as a broken laptop or a rent shortfall, and dental care.
CATALYST AWARD FINALIST AMY DOHERTY
Practice manager, Centinel Financial Group
As a daughter and sister of loved ones who struggled with addiction, Amy Doherty, practice manager for Centinel Financial Group in Osterville, Massachusetts, has made a point of volunteering to help those trying to overcome addiction.
An avid runner and proponent of healthy living, Doherty decided in 2016 to provide a missing piece in post-treatment recovery support — wellness — and founded WellStrong, a multifunctional community center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, for local people in recovery. More than 1,700 people have been served since inception.
The nonprofit promotes fitness, wellness, workforce reentry, and a sense of community by providing a small gym, classrooms and social meeting spaces; hiring opportunities for people in recovery; and a supportive community of peers. WellStrong also offers classes in yoga, mindfulness and meditation.
“People in early recovery know that when they walk in that door, it will be a nonjudgmental atmosphere. Additionally, people in recovery want to give back — they mentor each other,” Doherty said. “When people get out of treatment … they’re struggling with so much in their lives. The last thing they’re going to think about is their own wellness. But, ironically, it’s that health and wellness that improves their chances of success in recovery.”
CATALYST AWARD FINALIST BOB SWIFT
Founder, TCI Wealth Advisors
“We are striving to reach young people of moderate means,” said Bob Swift, founder of Tucson, Arizona-based TCI Wealth Advisors and the nonprofit 3rd Decade. And he’ll even pay people to participate.
3rd Decade is a two-year financial literacy education and mentoring program, focused primarily on people ages 18 to 35. Its main components include 40 hours of class, capped by a test, plus two years of semi-annual mentoring by financial professionals, who are trained to mentor by the organization. Not only is the program provided for free, but participants with incomes below $90,000 who complete the program receive $1,000 for their Roth IRA.
The 5-year-old nonprofit has been growing exponentially, Swift said. Now partnering with national financial firms, 3rd Decade is expanding to eight cities across the U.S. What’s making people sign up?
“Originally it was the $1,000 award, but we learned that when young people decide they like something, the word spreads in their social media world,” Swift said. “I’d like to think about what Tucson could be like in 25 years if all the young people started following sound financial principles. There would be increased financial security, more confident employees, and potentially — future philanthropists.”
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