Seven years ago, a single mom in Monterey Park couldn’t find the right tutoring program for her son, who was failing 8th grade. So she took a do-it-yourself approach and created her own volunteer-based tutoring program, Project NEO.

At the beginning, Mary Wong’s son hated Project NEO — specifically how his mom described his academic challenges in the nonprofit’s origin story. Nonetheless, it was a success. It won a national award for its program design and gained recognition in the Monterey Park community. In retrospect, Wong’s son, who is now a junior at Cal Poly Pomona, appreciates how the program helped him and his peers.

However, running Project NEO also came with challenges for its founder.

When Wong needed help with grant writing, she met with Michelle Freridge, executive director of the Asian Youth Center (AYC). Project NEO and AYC had a similar community-based mission, youth population and geographic region. One of Project NEO’s board members, who was a former AYC board member, put them in contact. Freridge shared advice and the names of foundations that fund after-school programing.

She felt comfortable sharing that information because many organizations apply for foundation funding. But when Project NEO started applying for individual donor and local business support, it put them in direct funding competition with AYC.

"Even though I had a board, the majority of the day-to-day operations and the funding were all on me," says Wong. "I was running the nonprofit and also running my own accounting firm."

Freridge attended a Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative (NSI) conference and learned about a grant to help organizations restructure to be more sustainable. The NSI is a funding collaborative that provides grants to help organizations form strategic partnerships to be more sustainable. The AYC board green-lit the idea of applying for the NSI grant and exploring the idea of a merger.

Read the full article about a tutoring nonprofit that grew after merging by Momentum Solutions at