Greet the giver: Opening doors Foundation seeks to break cycle of poverty

Arol Buntzman, founder and executive director

We can’t have that foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent poverty through education and training that will allow unemployed women and men to become self-employed business owners. The lack of employment opportunities that result in poverty prompted founders, partners and contributors to say, “We can’t have that.”

WCHT Foundation provides job training programs as well as support to early childhood, ESL and after-school programs for at-risk students. The Smart Start “Ice House” Entrepreneurship Program is an online learning program designed to empower learners through entrepreneurial thinking and immerse them in entrepreneurial experiences that will enable them develop entrepreneurial skills. “As someone who first joined the business world as a dyslexic high school dropout, I truly understand what it means to have to learn the basics,” said Arol Buntzman, founder and executive director of the foundation.

Throughout his careers in economic development, commercial real estate development, wholesale distribution, biotechnology and educational technology, he was attracted to the idea of social entrepreneurship. He worked as an economic developer for Native American tribes in Arizona and established a cash and carry distribution center for small grocery owners in the South Bronx area of New York City combining success in business with achieving important goals for the communities in which he worked. As chancellor of three two-year degree colleges, he helped more than 7,000 high school dropouts graduate debt free and launch into careers.

Buntzman has earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate of education degree in executive leadership. After retiring in 2008, he pursued his passion by creating programs that would help others in situations similar to the ones he had faced.

1. If you could gather the community and tell them one thing about WCHTF, what would it be?

I started the WCHT Foundation in 2008 in order to address needs and problems that should not exist in our society, such as lack of educational and economic opportunity. The motto of our foundation is “breaking the cycle of poverty through education.” Since its inception, the foundation has focused on projects that can help others help themselves.

Most recently, we have focused on entrepreneurship programs for the unemployed, helping them create jobs by starting small businesses. The Smart Start ‘Ice House’ Entrepreneurship Program helps people develop an entrepreneurial mindset, recognize opportunity and learn the skills needed to launch a business, thereby creating jobs for themselves and others.

2. What is unique about having a charity in Southwest Florida?

What I find unique about having a charity in Southwest Florida is the exceptional pool of talent among other retirees who are energetic and willing to engage in helping others to benefit from their experience.

3. What surprises you the most about working with WCHTF?

What surprises me most about my work with WCHTF is how great an impact can be made with wisely targeted investments of relatively small amounts of capital and how determined many participants in our programs are to changes their lives in a positive direction.

Participants in past entrepreneurship programs have not only been receptive and responsive, but they have demonstrated the willingness to do the hard work required by the entrepreneurship program, which is designed to give them a hand up rather than a hand-out.

4. Why did you choose to devote your time to this cause over others?

I chose this cause because I know how it feels to have doors closed on you and to be told to forget about pursuing your dreams.

5. How does working for WCHTF make you feel?

Helping unemployed people to start their own businesses, thereby helping themselves and many others in their communities is extremely rewarding. I truly enjoy mentoring new businessmen and women, seeing them succeed and the difference that makes in many peoples’ lives.

Want to get involved?

In order to expand the Smart Start ‘Ice House’ Entrepreneurship Program to Collier County, WCHTF is currently looking for mentors willing to share their experience and to motivate and guide participants who are planning to create jobs by starting their own businesses. The foundation is also seeking donations and sponsors to help cover the costs of programs in Collier County. Donations may be made by checks payable to We Can’t Have That Foundation and sent to 12747 Yacht Club Cir., Fort Myers, Fla. 33919. Donations may also be made online at www.wchtfoundation.org.

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