News Column

A CPA Follows His People Side

May 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Nonprofit profiles by Senior Editor Joel Russell, and Contributing Editor Jennifer Riley

Sanchez graduates.
Sanchez graduates.

Like many entrepreneurs, Gilbert Moreno worked at a large corporation before finding his niche. "I used to be a CPA with several of the Big Eight accounting firms," he says. "But I never felt I was a long-time CPA type. I wanted to do more people kind of things."

So in 1992, Mr. Moreno left Corporate America to become CEO of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA) in Houston. The organization had an annual budget of $14.9 million last year, ranking it tenth on the 2004 Hispanic Business Top Nonprofits directory.

Now, Mr. Moreno channels his energy into AAMA's flagship George I. Sanchez Charter High School, which he says is "the most successful alternative school run by a Hispanic nonprofit in the country." Since 1973, Sanchez High has taken in students having problems in the public school system and worked to help them advance. The school's small size (600 students on two campuses), individual attention in the classroom, and "empowered" teachers help "kids that most people have given up on," says Mr. Moreno.

In addition, AAMA goes beyond its early-education efforts to run the "Adelante" adult literacy program, eight alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers, medical clinics, and technology training. Geographically, the organization offers services in Houston, San Antonio, Laredo, and the lower Rio Grande Valley.

"AAMA is the organization that comes closest to addressing main issues for Hispanic families: education, access to health care, human services, and technology," says Rick Jaramillo, a senior vice-president at Bank of America and chairman of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It's unusual to find that kind of comprehensive organization under one roof."

Two years ago, the organization won a $2.5-million grant from the Commerce Department to create the Latino Technology Network, an online coalition of 13 Hispanic-serving groups around the nation. The network provides Web hosting and allows groups to stream their events online so other nonprofit agencies can participate.

On the fund-raising and management side of the nonprofit, Mr. Moreno's CPA experience has proven valuable. AAMA receives money from about 100 different grants. Government programs and agencies account for 84.4 percent of its money, with corporate, foundation, and individual grants making up the remainder. Education (42.8 percent) and medical clinics (32.5 percent) figure as its two largest expenses.

In the future, Mr. Moreno wants to expand the advocacy role of AAMA by capitalizing on an office in Washington, D.C., that was opened last year. High school drop out prevention and recovery also ranks top on the priority list. According to statistics gathered by AAMA, only about 7.5 percent of all of the Hispanic students enrolled in Houston high schools will graduate. The numbers indicate that although the lower Rio Grande Valley, one of the poorest sections of the United States, had a high school graduation rate of 58 percent, East Houston performed even worse at 52 percent.

"Data shows the Houston Independent School District graduated only 3,550 Hispanic students in 2003. That's a woeful number," Mr. Moreno says. "We are setting benchmarks to improve those figures." As a first step, AAMA organized a press conference on the issue, in conjunction with the Houston Hispanic Chamber, the Houston Hispanic Forum, Hispanic Women in Leadership, Rice University, Houston Community College and the school district.

And like any good CEO with a financial background, Mr. Moreno also has numbers to show the success of his organization. He can point to a new, 100,000-square-foot facility in Houston that houses the nonprofit's headquarters and charter school. AAMA serves 35,000 people every year, 95 percent of whom are Hispanic. "With about 400 employees, and revenues in the millions," he says, "we would rank pretty well on the Hispanic Business 500 list of companies."



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