This Senior Turned a Class Project into a Nonprofit Organization

Irvington school children read books donated by NJIT senior Tamer Marshood, who founed a nonprofit to encourage the children to read.

Tamer Marshood turned what began as a class project into a nonprofit organization – one that is now encouraging children to read and helping to feed hungry people. 

Last week Tamer launched the nonprofit, called "Feeding by Reading," by delivering 1,500 books to elementary schools in nearby Irvington. The district endorsed Tamer’s program, in which fourth and fifth graders in eight schools will read books and raise money for The Church Women United Food Pantry of Irvington.

“Feeding by Reading” has a simple yet heart-felt premise. It’s similar to a walk-a-thon, but instead of walking for a cause the children read books for a cause -- and the cause is the food pantry.

Tamer designed a website where the children have their own pages. People can visit the “Feeding by Reading” site and sponsor a child for every book he or she reads. The money raised from the sponsors is then donated to the pantry. His nonprofit is thus doubly helpful: It encourages children to read while helping to feed the hungry. 

The Feeding by Reading site also uses various means to induce the children to read. The site has online comics featuring a group of characters known as the "Feeding by Reading Team," and there are prizes for top readers - including a special MAD Science Assembly program for the elementary school that collectively reads the most. Tamer used $5,000 of his own money to build "Feeding by Reading." And now that the books are in the hands of the children and the pilot program is in place, he is happy.

 “When I dropped off the books I was ecstatic,” says Tamer, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering who has a keen sense of social justice. “I started this project because it combines so many wonderful elements. It's more than just about reading and feeding hungry people. It's about setting an example for what's possible. It's about showing children that they have the power, right now, to make their world a better place.”

He said the idea for his nonprofit grew out of an assignment for Entrepreneurship 410, a management class he took last year at NJIT. For that class, students had to come up with a plan for a new business. Tamer didn’t enter the class intending to start a company. He enrolled to learn a bit about business. But as the semester went on, he found himself infatuated with his own idea, which slowly blossomed into “Feeding by Reading.”

He spent a year developing his nonprofit, sometimes putting in 60 hour a weeks: He created the website; trademarked the name; incorporated the company; enlisted the support of the Irvington schools and even met with Rochelle Hendricks, New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education. Hendricks supported Tamer’s project and introduced him to people who could help. So what began as a simple class project morphed into a labor of love and a mission to help two of society’s most vulnerable groups: children and the poor. 

In this interview, Tamer talks about how a class project grew into a nonprofit that is spreading literacy and sustenance to residents of a town – Irvington -- that is near to the NJIT campus. 

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Why did you start this project?

It's about standing up for basic human justice. There's absolutely no reason why children shouldn’t own books and that people should be hungry. There are more than enough resources for everyone to be well fed. Yet, as far as we've come as a society, we have not been able to create functioning social systems that properly handle life's most basic necessity.  I'm not saying that “Feeding by Reading” is the final answer. I'm suggesting that programs like this are a good way to encourage momentum in such a socially beneficial direction.

You did all the work yourself but now you are hoping that people will sponsor the children, which will be more of a communal effort.

Yes: "Feeding by Reading" encourages reading AND creates an opportunity to make it useful to one's own community. Humanity's ultimate success is dependent upon a mix of individual achievement and collaborative efforts, and Feeding by Reading is a wonderful example of the promise that can be found if we, as a society, continue to move creatively in this direction.

Why do you empathize with needy people?

It makes me angry to see people hungry. Human suffering pisses me off.

Talk about how this started off as a class assignment? 

I took the management class not in order to build "Feeding by Reading" specifically, but because I wanted to improve my business acumen. On the first day of the class, Entrepreneurship 410, as Professor Bandera was explaining his expectations for the class, all I could think about was my project. My main question was, ‘Can I really build an organization out of this?’ I had the intent, though I hadn't the slightest idea of how it would work. I stayed after class and spoke to Professor B about it. He was very encouraging! That evening I decided to make it my project for the semester. 

Then you later won a contest for your idea.

Right, I was one of the winners of the Newark Innovation Acceleration Challenge, a yearly competition for people with their own startup company ideas. I won a $3,000 prize and used that money to help me build the company.  But part of the prize was also taking a summer class in business management and development with Professor Michael Ehrlich.

Did that class help you?

Yes, I had a proof of concept but I really refined my ideas in that class. And the class helped legitimize the project for me. I started to talk to people in Irvington and the nonprofit started to feel like a reality. I worked on it all that summer. I later met with the superintendent of schools for Irvington and she eventually liked the idea and gave her approval to the program that I launched there last week.

How much time have you spent on this and who is supporting you?

Dude, a lot of time. My support is growing, though I'm still a one-man show. I'm almost to the point where the systems are in place so that I can put a team in place to handle certain aspects of the program. I put a lot of money (altogether $7,000) and a lot of time into it – I’d say a solid year of my life, just building and pushing and meeting with people.  It’s been a huge orchestral organizational effort.

You also met with the highest education official in the state. How did that happen?

I met N.J. Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks at a business event at Princeton University. It was a N.J. entrepreneur network poster session. After hearing Secretary Hendricks speak, I knew I had to meet her. I got her email, emailed her the next day and jumped for joy about four months later when her secretary reached out to schedule a meeting. I went to Trenton and met with her twice. I had been keeping her up to date via email as things progressed and by the time we met we had much to discuss. She's introduced me to quite a few people and I'm starting to build a great network.  She’s been very supportive and I might ask her to be on my board.

Did a local TV station shoot a commercial about the launch of "Feeding by Reading" in the Irvington schools?

Yes, the day I delivered the books the local cable station from Irvington met me at the Florence Avenue Elementary School. We selected five children to be in the commercial, which will air soon on the local cable station.  Officials from the mayor’s office were also there. It was amazing.

And are students at Montclair State University are using “Feeding by Reading” as case study of a successful nonprofit startup?

Yes, this idea began as an idea for a management class at NJIT. And recently a professor from Montclair State University contacted me and said a group of students in his marketing class would like to do a case study on “Feeding by Reading,” to study how a successful nonprofit got off the ground. I, of course, agreed and will have a lot to tell the students – all good.

(By Robert Florida, 10/14)