May 21, 2010
10-098

Jennifer Tanner
Communications Specialist

Newbern Honored Nationally for Contributions to SIFE

VALDOSTA -- As president of First Federal Savings and Loan in Valdosta, Valdosta State University alumnus Thomas Newbern knows a thing or two about investing. He understands quality time outweighs the value of a dollar and that a little faith and positive encouragements goes a long way with college students.

These principles fuel his passion as chairman for the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) Business Advisory Board and lead him to dedicate countless hours and never-ending emotional support to the organization's more than 150 members. Recognizing his significant contributions, SIFE USA chose Newbern as the 2010 Most Supportive Business Advisory Board Member of the Year -- a national honor bestowed annually upon one board member who has demonstrated outstanding support for his or her team.

Newbern has been involved with SIFE for more than ten years. The 1983 Langdale College of Business Administration graduate said his dedication to the group is a result of the continuous inspiration he receives from working with the students.

"I honestly can’t even put into words how awesome it is to watch these kids grow while they are out there mentoring school children and disadvantaged citizens in our community on behalf of VSU," he said. "Their selflessness is incredible, and in return they are gaining valuable skills and experience that cannot be learned in the classroom. I'll be here for them for 30 more years if they will have me."

VSU SIFE co-founder Wayne Plumly said Newbern is an integral part of the team. His monetary, time and emotional contributions are major drivers behind the organization's more than 40 successful service-learning projects each year.

"He is our greatest community spokesperson, supporter and advocate," said Plumly, who serves as LCOBA dean and SIFE advisor. "He has participated in every phase of our team's operation -- from hands-on volunteering alongside students to hiring our graduates. Words cannot describe the contributions he has made to our program."

From establishing projects to building financial support, Newbern has invested a great deal in VSU SIFE at all levels. He often participates as a loan officer in the Friday's Program, which teaches local fifth graders to apply for loans to start businesses, and founded Money Smarts, a financial literacy program for homeless individuals. His dedication and creativity have re-energized the Business Advisory Board and his passion for SIFE's mission has attracted financial support for the organization and many employment opportunities for students.

With Newbern's help, SIFE members formulated and revised a successful business plan for "Business Bites," the first student-run, on-campus business in the state of Georgia. Under his direction, the group pitched their plan and secured $7,500 in start-up capital.

Plumly said Newbern is known as the emotional leader of the team -- often sharing inspirational words to remind members of their importance within the organization and encouraging students to make a meaningful impact.

However, his greatest feat has been guidance and financial support during the development of the SIFE Skills Success Center. Plumly said Newbern spearheaded the effort to raise more than $170,000 to build the 2,500-square-foot facility, equipped with music, art and academic rooms, a computer lab and a library. Located in a low-income housing development, the learning center will facilitate SIFE programs that develop valuable skills necessary to survival in the free enterprise system.

"It will truly be one of SIFE's biggest assets. It will be a conduit for change -- an instrument SIFE members can use to educate at-risk kids and show them new options for the future," said Newbern of the center, which will benefit children of all ages. "What's the economic impact of one child choosing a different path and becoming a productive citizen? What's the economic value of changing one child's life? Its priceless."

Newbern also judges tryouts for SIFE's presenting teams, which have captured 16 consecutive regional titles and accumulated four national final four finishes in nine years. Each 24-minute performance showcases the organization's projects and recent accomplishments. Read about the most recent final four appearance here: http://www.valdosta.edu/news/releases/sife.052110/ .

The VSU SIFE organization is part of an international organization located on more than 600 campuses nationwide and in 40 countries throughout the world. The VSU group, which is open to all majors, logged more than 9,000 service-learning hours during the 2009-10 academic year.

"These kids aren't just affecting the community. They are building, for themselves, life skills and experience that every company is looking for," Newbern said. "This is really a hidden treasure in our community and I deeply encourage other businesses and organizations to check out the VSU SIFE website and see how they can become a part of the movement.”