Photo: Former Community Facilities Challenge alums Jennifer Khy and Rudy Serrato with Mary Rogier, NCCLF’s President

For the past six years, NCCLF has partnered with Fresno State University (FSU) on the Community Facilities Challenge (CFC), a project where student teams compete to create solutions to real world nonprofit facility projects in their own community. Student teams with representatives from FSU’s Lyle’s College of Engineering, Craig School of Business, and Department of Art & Design create a feasibility analysis, which includes financial analysis, property valuation, initial design concept, engineering review, construction schedule, and other relevant components necessary to move the project forward. This year, students are working with the Fresno Fire Department to design a series of  “Safety Towns” where children are taught meaningful safety rules, such as how to carefully cross the street.

The purpose of the CFC is to connect students with local nonprofit community development efforts as a means to build awareness and interest in applying their education and experience locally. “NCCLF seeks to get students excited about community development efforts in Fresno,” noted Joanne Lee, NCCLF director of consulting and coordinator of the CFC. “We want the talent among these students retained for local benefit.”

Last month, NCCLF was excited to join Innovative Development and Living Solutions (IDLS) for the ribbon cutting of the long-anticipated Magnolia Crossing, a mixed income senior assisted living community designed to promote social and physical wellness for independent seniors. NCCLF has long-partnered with IDLS to see this project to completion, providing financing and New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) allocations at various stages of the project. But that wasn’t all that NCCLF provided.

IDLS principal Michael Sigala has been an instructor at FSU and involved with CFC since its inception. “The curriculum of the CFC is multidisciplinary which mirrors work in the built environment,” notes Sigala. “Successful community development requires leadership and a proficiency in an array of topics.”

Embracing the project’s spirit, Sigala hired CFC Alums Rudy Serrato and Jennifer Khy who were instrumental in the Magnolia project and are now an important part of the IDLS team.

Both Rudy and Jennifer were students of Sigala’s Real Estate Finance class at FSU when they were introduced to the Challenge; Rudy’s team finished second and Jennifer’s team took first place in their respective year. Neither student started out with community development in mind when they declared themselves as Real Estate majors, but both are appreciative for the CFC for peeking their interest in the field and preparing them to work in their careers today.

Serrato, who participated in the 2015 Challenge where teams worked with nonprofit thrift stores, worked with Hinds Hospice Thrift Store. “I wasn’t familiar with how nonprofits can use thrift stores as a revenue generator to benefit the community,” he recalled. “Getting the chance to learn more about their work and interact with their volunteers made me appreciate the need for services nonprofits provide in the community.”

The challenge was overwhelming at first,” admits Khy who participated in the 2016 competition that focused on community centers in city parks. “Mostly because up until this point we were only taught in the classroom. Now we had to apply what we learned from textbooks to a real-world situation.”

“Most of the kids using the community center were from low-income neighborhoods and the community center offered activities that their schools just didn’t,” she recalled. “You could tell the kids were happy we took an interest in their community and were eager to participate.”

Jennifer advised future teams participating in the Challenge to really focus on what “real world” benefits they could bring to the nonprofits, mentioning, “the kids made various, and some extreme, suggestions on what they would like to see to improve the community facility.” She added, “Although we wished we could have worked in everything that the kids were asking for into our proposal, we had to consider financials and what was feasible. That’s the whole lesson of this challenge – real world solutions that are achievable.”

Teams work for the entire semester before presenting their proposals to an esteemed group of judges consisting of local community development and finance professionals who score each team’s work on thoroughness, creativity, and feasibility. The winners are announced at a special reception following the competition where students can network with local community development professionals. “We appreciate the participation of so many local professionals who truly go out of their way to support these students,” said Lee.

That exposure helped both Rudy and Jennifer connect with Sigala and eventually, IDLS. “At the awards ceremony after the competition, Michael approached me and asked if I would be interested in working with him,” Khy recalled. “I think the Challenge demonstrated to him that I could successfully work on a community development project.” She’s been with IDLS now since May 2016.

For Rudy, he had heard from a fellow classmate that Sigala was seeking a graduate to assist with the development of IDLS. “I reached out to him and we met the next day. Although it had been a few months since the Challenge, I really felt that the work I had done made me stick out to Michael among other applicants,” said Serrato, who has been with IDLS since October 2015. “I like what I’m doing now,” adds Serrato. “I see and appreciate the need for community development and feel that I am really making an impact in my community.”

“Rudy and Jennifer exhibited leadership, intrigue, and determination in their challenges,” said Sigala. “These qualities are very important in life and this profession. Rudy and Jennifer are very smart and have the right attitude.”

For both, the CFC helped in setting their course to work in community development. “The CFC really demonstrated how challenging it can be to coordinate the various aspects of a community development project,” said Khy. “But that’s what it’s like in the real world. You have to coordinate and work with a lot of different people in a lot of different industries to successfully bring a project together and I’m really happy that the CFC exposed me to this line of work”

The 2018 Fresno Community Facilities Challenge presentations will take place on April 25, 2018 at Fresno State University.  Following the presentations, the winning team will be announced at a special reception taking place at Smittcamp Alumni Building on the FSU campus from 5:00pm – 7:00pm.