By Kathy Day
Belinda Bergum likes doing her own thing and right now that “thing” is giving back through the foundation she established two years ago.
Always one who helped out, she started before her five children were born by putting together holiday baskets and gifts for families on a small scale. Today she runs the Bergum Foundation, which has a mission “to make a difference one person at a time, and help those who have a desire for education. The ultimate goal is to create a platform for growth in academic achievement and improve the integrity of our society,” according to its website www.bergumfoundation.org.
“I love to help people who are trying to reach their educational goals but do not have the financial means to do so,” she said in a recent interview.
One of six children whose parents were divorced when she was very young, she said she “has always had a heart to give.”
“It’s more about helping the underprivileged,” she said, adding that she likes “helping at a smaller level” — providing laptops or tutors or covering SAT prep classes or even prom dresses or senior pictures — for teens who were trying hard but didn’t have the wherewithal to spend on such things.
“I enjoy it because when I was growing up I didn’t have those opportunities,” Bergum said. Now that she is fortunate enough to be able to give back and has the contacts to help her, “this is a given.”
But she waited until their daughter, 14, and four sons – now 15, 16, 18 and 19 – were older so she had time to get more involved in giving.
Initially, she set up a small boutique. She would go to Los Angeles and purchase clothing that would then sell to raise funds for her Little Voices project to aid children in Guatemala.
Having the large inventory, she and friends Dena Reyes, now the executive assistant, and Susan Latini-Powell decided to set up a sort of “shop” where low-income middle and high school girls could come and select new clothing to wear to school. Another board member is Molly Byrd, a longtime friend and mentor to Bergum.
Knowing that girls feel more confident when they have something new, they believe that they could help them with their self esteem through what came to be known as “Fitting In.”
Originally, Bergum said, they agreed that the girls could select two items. “But you see them walk around all of the new clothing and you open your heart.” So the girls often leave with several items.
Last year, with the help of the Boys & Girls Club, girls from the Solana Beach area, where Bergum now lives, were invited to visit the “boutique” in a converted tack room behind her home.
This year they also are inviting girls to email them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The event is set for Aug. 26.
Eventually, she said, she would like to help girls in need from other communities such as Oceanside and Vista “where the need is great.”
Now, though, she’s focused on building another of their programs, “Finish Strong.” Each year they select students with potential and give them financial support for their academic needs.
“I am super fired-up about it,” Bergum said. “With funding cuts for the AVID programs, many students will need tutors or help with preparing for the SATs.”
They have identified students through counselors at local high schools and Bergum’s sons have also suggested friends who they have seen struggling with finances. They also accept applications from students directly through the website.
Bergum said her sons have been very helpful and her daughter, who will be a freshman at Torrey Pines, is looking forward to helping with Fitting In this year.
One of the Bergum Foundation’s projects, “Little Voices,” aims to provide clothing, shoes, hygiene supplies and school supplies for Guatemalan children.
The organization, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, is relationship-oriented, its founder said.
When they started, they consulted with Nonprofit Management Solutions because “we want to do it right,” she added. “Early on, they told us it’s like starting a business.”
And, true to their warning that it would be about three years before they settled in, now Bergum believes they are on the road to success.
They are just starting to accept applications online and she said she hopes this year they will be able to go through them and sponsor every one of the students who apply. They are also accepting donations and welcome partners.
Learn more at bergumfoundation.org; 858-481-1401. Email Bergum if you or someone you know could benefit from Fitting In at email@example.com. Apply for Finish Strong academic support at bergumfoundation.org and click on ‘application.’