Asaiki Simon, CEO/President of BGCM Community Center & Sportsplex Non-Profit
“We Rise By Lifting Others”
Did you know that most nonprofits are ran by women? But, men still hold 79% of the CEO positions of nonprofits with $25 million in assets or more. Despite those statistics, women are knocking down stereotypes and doing impactful things for their community.
Earlier this year, I started volunteering and had the pleasure of working with Asaiki Simon. She is a true inspiration to young women who want to make a difference in their community. So we are thrilled, that she agreed to share her story with us.
BGCM (Because God Chose Me) Community Center & Sportsplex, was created by Asaiki and her husband Wolde. This organization’s mission is to nurture young people and families by reinforcing Christian principles that emphasize that they have been emphatically chosen by God to do magnificent things. BGCM provides programs that build positive self-esteem and gives youth the opportunity to train, excel, and compete academically, artistically and athletically. While they serve middle to upper-class families, they specifically cater to families in underrepresented and underserved communities; as well as students from abroad. Some of their programs include STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, Math) & International Immersion Summer Camps, Young Entrepreneurship Academy, and Girls Who Code. And that only scratches the surface of what they do.
I think running a nonprofit is very admirable and selfless. I hope you feel as inspired by this woman’s story as I am.
In the CEO Corner with Asaiki Simon ….
How can the youth get involved with BGCM right now?
Tell us, what’s the BGCM difference?
Most of the robotics and STEAM classes are extremely expensive. We are the only organization that brings together, themed programs that are affordable. We cater to youth of all different economic backgrounds, and that’s rare in our niche.
What inspired you to start BGCM?
My own experience. We started BGCM about 16-17 years ago. We had just bought our first house in New Jersey and we (my husband and I) realized the opportunity we had to get out of our old neighborhood. We were determined to have better.
Most black men don’t travel outside of a 20-mile radius of where they are born. Those facts were disturbing. There was a beach miles away from our old neighborhood, that some generations had never visited. So my husband and I started getting kids from the old neighborhood and taking them to different places for them to have new experiences. We’d sometimes have the 4-12 kids from a weekend to a week at a time. We’d take them to the beach, the pool, and do fun activities such as scavenger hunts. We would teach them about God.
And eventually, we shifted our focus to humanitarism and then became youth leaders. Out of all the kids we worked with, we had a 99% success rate, meaning no teen pregnancies, and almost all of them went to college and have good jobs already. We keep in touch with all of them. That experience started the inspiration to help others.
Transitioning from working a regular full-time job to a running your own organization can be difficult. What made you take the leap?
While we were getting the kids from our old neighborhood, God put a vision into my husband’s heart to start a community center. And several years later the name BGCM came to me in a dream. The rest is history. We’ve known this is what we wanted to do all along, but it became official in 2015. God called me back to school and I was very reluctant. It was just fear of failure, I thought how is a girl from the hood going to do this? But when God provides the vision, he will also provide the provision. The job I was working at closed my department. So I went back to school. I majored in business administration from a Christian college to help me learn how to run the BGCM organization. After that we launched and incorporated in November 2015. Then in 2016, we had our first summer camp for kids.
What has been the highlight of running BGCM so far?
It’s definitely the difference we are making in the lives of children. A parent whose child is in our program, told me that college was not an option for her daughter. But after she came to the BGCM STEAM Camp, it made such an impact on her, she is now abdomen about going to college. This same parent also has a son who is partially deaf. She was extremely proud to see her son speak at the camp’s closing ceremony this past summer.
Another parent told us that her son has made a complete 360 due to the love we showed him. He’s so much more mature and doesn’t have the same issues with anger that he did before. He is now achieving great things and making great strides.
And then just recently a parent told me that her daughter was greatly influenced by what the other kids had accomplished this summer. That she now uses her peers has a bar and says she wants to be just like them. Hearing these stories, makes me understand that this is my purpose.
It’s great to hear the amazing things you are doing for families. Does BGCM have any expansion plans?
Yes. We are working to get a grant for a fashion arts program next year. We want to offer the youth more art programs and field trips. We also plan to start a pre-college prep program called Young People Exceeding Expectations. The goal for that is to help students get into Rutgers Early College Programs and boarding schools, which are very competitive academically. We specifically want to help minority students. Our program will prepare the parents and students. You just don’t know how much you don’t know until you know it.
You’re right, knowledge is power. So, outside of your business, you are a busy mom and wife. How do you balance both running an organization and handling your other responsibilities?
By the Grace of God (she laughs). I have a life coach that I talk to on a weekly basis. There are many long hours and sleeplessness nights, between the kids' sports, academic programs, music careers and other activities. I pray when I’m overwhelmed and we have a lot of people who are praying for us.
Well, you juggle it all gracefully. What advice would you give a young woman who wants to start her own nonprofit?
I’d say that timing is everything. Put your dreams and visions on paper. Start to map things out. In 2015, God enlarged my territory and put me in the right circle. Networking can be hard for someone who doesn’t have the circle of friends. But have discernment and make those connections. Learn to get out of your comfort zone.
Another lesson is, don’t tell small people your big dreams. That’s a distraction. You have to be around people who are smarter than you. And if your dreams don’t seem ridiculous then you're not thinking big enough. Step out on faith - and ask God to close old doors and open some new ones. God has kicked down doors for us. And it’s so important to have people in your corner that understand your vision. It can be lonely because you can’t take everyone with you. But if you believe in yourself and have faith it will all work out for you.
Get to know Asaiki a little more …
What's your favorite part of the holiday season?
I love getting together with my family and watching my kids and cousins interact. Not to mention the good food and cooking with the kids.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
It’d be Michelle Obama. There are so many questions I have to ask her! Like how can you be a powerful woman but still supportive of your husband? She copes with that on a daily basis, especially with the negativity that targets her family. What is her mindset? How does she continue to press forward? I’d just want an introduction.