Single Mother, Entrepreneur Helps TANF Families Advance in School and Workplace
Name of Company: BG Associates
Type of business: Education and training consultants
Owner: Brenda Guachena
How long in business: 16+ years
Brenda Guachena has come a long way since her humble beginnings as a single mother. In her own words, “When my kids were 6 and 8, I wasn’t getting any help from their dad, so I was basically on my own … I had no income and I had to stand in the welfare line.”
Now the 58-year-old Rincon native is an inspiration to many. She runs her own education consulting business in Escondido, California, called BG Associates, which provides training and technical assistance to tribal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) programs, at no cost to the native participants.
“We help adults with their GED, job preparation and job advancement. For children, K-12, we recently developed a new tutoring curriculum aligned to Common Core standards,” she said.
Guachena, who employs 25 people (mostly teachers) hopes to roll out her Common Core method of tutoring nationally someday – a curriculum that her team spent nearly a year revamping and one that she said sets them apart from other tutoring centers. “Every program we have aligns 100 percent to what students are learning in school.”
But for now, she stays plenty busy working with tribes that are members of the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, as well as the Washoe, Torres Martinez, Soboba, Lone Pine, North Fork, Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa, Morongo and Riverside County tribal TANF programs.
Daphne Demarchi, BG Associates’ education director, said they are seeing remarkable progress in many of their tutored students. “At our Lone Pine facility, 78 percent of our students are in the Renaissance Program, or honors program,” Demarchi reported proudly. “I have worked with a lot of tutoring programs – many national -- and I have never seen so many students achieve such a high level of understanding that they could enter an honors program.” Guachena is equally impressed and said that having native kids on the Renaissance list is the most rewarding part of her job.
Perhaps students excel at BG Associates learning centers because there is never much downtime. “Our centers aren’t just a place where native kids come and do homework, and if they don’t have homework, they sit and do nothing.
We have also developed assessments, so if students are having trouble with division or reading, our tutors give them worksheets to help them through it.” Guachena emphasized, “It is not a babysitting center. We are an EDUCATION center!”
It’s this kind of passion and focus that helped this single mom leap from the welfare line to running her own business – with a lot of long days and nights thrown in. “I’ve always worked two jobs,” she said, in addition to taking care of her children. While attending Merritt College for medical billing, Guachena got a job at Palomar Hospital, where she ended up working for 20 years as an admittance clerk. When her hospital shift ended, Guachena would head over to Pechanga Casino and Resort to work as an auditor until 11:30 at night. She said she couldn’t have done it without her parents, who lived close by and helped look after their grandchildren.
But all that hard work and juggling of commitments eventually paid off. This determined mother of two was able to save up $10,000 to launch BG Associates in 1998, and the rest is history.
Guachena still runs at Mach speed, but she tries to divide her time between work and her 10 grandchildren. “I hope that what I’ve done helps my granddaughters become strong, independent women, as well.”
Looking back on her path to success, this entrepreneur hopes that she has inspired others: “I am a native women, and I know what reservation life is, and we can either make it a good life or a bad life, it’s up to us. ... I would like my children, nephews, nieces and others on the reservation to feel the same way, and know they can do what I did. It’s reachable, because it has been done.”
Lynn Armitage is an entrepreneur and small business owner in Northern California. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.
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