Imagine setting a 10-year goal, then spending a whole decade determined to reach it.
Then, imagine a step further: After years of hard work, you actually achieve that goal, before the decade is up.
How good would that feel?
Robert Jung, the founder of the Milpitas Community Educational Endowment (MCEE), knows exactly how good. Nearly 10 years ago, he made a bold commitment: He formed MCEE with the dream of building a $100,000 endowment, one that would support the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) in serving its students at an optimum level. Based on his experience raising money and serving on PTA boards, he figured he could raise roughly $10,000 a year.
But here’s the thing: The timing could not have been more abysmal. It was just after 2008, when the global economy was barreling downhill.
MUSD was trying to adjust to the change, making cuts on programs including Music.
In search of alternative ways to bring in money, Dr. Karl Black, the current MUSD Superintendent, reached out to Jung with a request. At the time, Jung was serving as Board President of Sinnott Elementary’s PTA.
The Superintendent had looked around at other communities, and saw that they had foundations that existed to support education. At the time, nothing even close to that existed in Milpitas. So Dr. Black asked Jung if he’d be willing to find new ways to support the district. Jung accepted the mission, and decided that the alternative he found would have to be something that functioned differently from a PTA, and not be reliant upon parents’ generous donations to stay afloat.
Jung poured some time into research, and looked into surrounding communities to see what was working for them. Studying places like Cupertino, Palo Alto, and Mountain View, he took note of individuals donating tens of thousands of dollars to education. Since that kind of thing wasn’t happening in Milpitas, Jung knew he had to figure out another way to bring in money.
It was then when the idea of an endowment started forming in his mind. With an endowment, he figured, you’d raise a certain amount of money and invest it; the money you made off of the investments could then be given away as grants to the school district. The endowment’s initial $100,000 in funds is never touched; it would just keep getting invested, year after year, in order to consistently generate more grants. Jung figured that unlike a regular fundraising goal — where you raise money, spend it, and then have to raise it all over again — an endowment would make for a more sustainable way of providing continued funding to the school district. And with his background as a private investor, Jung was confident that he would be able to make smart long-term decisions about how that money was managed.
In the meantime, Jung decided that in exactly 10 years — which would be June of 2019 — if he hadn’t raised the money for the endowment, he’d just shutter the whole thing. His youngest child, a daughter, would be graduating from Milpitas High in June of 2019, so he thought that would make a good cutoff point.
However, as stated, MCEE hit the goal early; about 6 months early, to be exact. What brought them to their milestone was their 2nd Annual Black Tie Fundraiser, held on December 7, 2018. They raised a total of $4,000, hitting their mark.
“It took nine and and a half years to realize this crazy idea I had, and to make it work,” said Jung. “And I made a commitment that we weren’t going to interfere with PTAs. I want the PTAs to thrive, so I didn’t want to compete against them. I really wanted to see if we could get the community to invest in this. Those first few years, I was thinking — what did I get myself into? It was tough at first.”
Given the economic downturn, in the beginning nobody was really interested in supporting MCEE’s cause. Small checks would come in; a hundred here, a hundred there. At the rate things were going, that $100,000 goal seemed pie-in-the-sky. How would they ever reach it?
It was 2010 when things started to finally pick up.
“Since we couldn’t ask for money, we started building relationships. Then we’d start telling people what we were trying to accomplish,” said Jung.
One of the relationships they established was with Wells Fargo Bank. They formed a connection with the regional manager there, and before they knew it, Wells Fargo was writing them a check for $10,000.
Finally. Their first big donation. It served as a turning point, propelling Jung and his team to continue forward, despite the challenges.
“That first $10,000 was that initial validation of…okay, we’re doing something meaningful,” said Jung.
And so they continued to push ahead. At the time, the MCEE team consisted of 3 – 4 individuals. One of them — Milpitas resident Yolie Garcia — has been by Jung’s side the longest, having served on MCEE’s board since 2011.
Since everyone working toward the goal had a job, a family, and/or other responsibilities to attend to, nobody was on the case full-time. They didn’t have the luxury of pouring full days into the effort. So it all took some time to figure out, but over the years, Jung and team learned how to manage it all better.
Wells Fargo continued to provide generous donations. However, after a few years, that regional manager left the bank, and without that relationship intact, Wells Fargo no longer sent out any checks.
It was time to start looking at other opportunities. MCEE began to focus on different kinds of programs they could offer to the community. Some worked out, others didn’t.
For example, they tried a Principal for a Day program, inviting community members to shadow principals at elementary schools so that they could get a feel for the job. “They got a sense of all the challenges, the needs, and the rewards that come along with being a principal,” said Jung. “We’d have a lunch to debrief, and just used it as a launching pad to create relationships.”
The program lasted a couple years, but wasn’t used as a fund-generator of any kind. The relationship-building was of paramount importance to MCEE.
“Sometimes it’s not just about asking for money,” said Jung. “It’s more important that schools learn how to really build relationships. And from the relationships, in my opinion, you can build longer-lasting partnerships where the funds come as a byproduct, versus you going for a drive and asking for money. Sometimes you have to do that. But I really think that overall, the more relationships you can build, the more you can help strengthen the community.”
MCEE also runs an annual Science Technology Engineering Art Mathematics (STEAM) Showcase, a job fair, and other programs to engage, support, and enhance the community. They’ve also been in charge of running scholarships over the years, and even have an ongoing incubator program, wherein they test out new ideas to select which avenues to explore next.
Jung estimates that the $100,000 they invest will have a return of 5%, generating $5K annually. That $5K will then be given to MUSD, to use toward whatever their top priorities are each year.
“We hope to be able to address critical needs that the district needs help on,” said Jung. “The district can count on the fact that this will be an annual grant.”
Recently, MCEE welcomed 2 new individuals on their Board of Directors, bringing them up to 5 members total. Jung is among them, but hopes that in the next couple of years, he can step back and solely hold the role of Founder. He’d love to see new community members come in with fresh ideas to keep the endowment going strong.
The Board is currently working on a 5-year plan, and possibly establishing some new goals. “Personally, I’d love to see the endowment size doubled in the next 5 years,” said Jung. “So that 5K becomes 10K.” He also stressed that this was just a personal idea of his, and something that the Board had to decide on.
Having previously served on MUSD’s school board for the past 2 years (a post he was appointed to after Bob Nuñez left his board seat upon being elected to the Milpitas City Council), Jung opted not to run in the November, 2018, election. At that point, not only had MCEE not yet reached its goal, Jung was intent upon putting all he had into ensuring that the school bond Measure AA passed.
When asked how he felt about leaving his board seat, Jung replied, “Part of me feels sad because of the chemistry all of us on the previous board had…I felt like that team was positioned to do some great things. But on the other side of the coin, I was able to do the things I felt were necessary for future success. One was the school bond passed, and we got 71.41 percent, which is the highest across the county on this election. And the second one is, I was able to finally realize this milestone for MCEE.”
To learn more about MCEE, go to: http://www.mceefoundation.org
(Featured photo from MCEE website; taken at the last fundraiser.)