By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

Regional Enterprise manager Shane Jones, left, hired Samuel Lauderdale, right, after the Valley High graduate talked about how the local nonprofit Improve Your Tomorrow “saved his life.” The organization is one of nine local recipients of an Enterprise grant focused on equity and inclusion. Louis Bryant, OBSERVER

Enterprise Holdings is honoring its stated commitment to social and racial equity by giving it some gas – $55 million worth.

Enterprise, a leading rental car company, recently awarded $111,000 to nine Sacramento nonprofits as part of its worldwide ROAD Forward initiative. Established in November 2020, the acronym shapes a five-year focus on Respect, Opportunity, Achievement and Diversity.

“At Enterprise, the lifeblood of our work is people – the people who serve our customers, the people who do business with us, and the people who make up our communities. We have a role to play in helping break down barriers to opportunity in neighborhoods around the world,” said Enterprise Holdings Chief Diversity Officer Errin Braddock.

The local grant recipients include 916 INK, which received $8,000; Throwing Starfish Foundation, $8,000; Fitrah Inc., $10,000; Improve Your Tomorrow, $10,000; the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Sacramento, $18,000; and second-year recipients the United College Action Network (U-CAN), $16,000; and Sisters of Nia Inc., $11,000.

“Receiving a grant from the Enterprise Holdings Foundation means everything to us,” shared Synthia Smith, co-founder of Sisters of Nia Inc.

Sisters of Nia provides a culturally centered curriculum aimed at supporting Black girls as they transition from elementary school to middle school and on to high school. Receiving an $8,000 grant in last year’s first pool of recipients helped Smith and her leadership team relaunch their summer camp this year after several years of being unable to host.

“It was the first funding we received that made us believe we would be able to bring Camp Nia back,” Smith shared.

Sisters of Nia received the larger 2022 grant after being nominated by local Enterprise employees.

“To be recognized for the work we’re doing with adolescent girls is a blessing and an honor, especially to receive grants that we haven’t even applied for,” Smith said.

The awardees are said to “embody the spirit” of the initiative as they address three pillars: early childhood development, youth health and wellness, and career and college preparation. Regional manager Shane Jones said Sisters of Nia stood out as having “checked all the boxes” for the kind of organization they wanted to support.

So did Improve Your Tomorrow. Jones’ support of the youth mentoring program gives new meaning to the term “put your money where your mouth is.” When a Valley High graduate, Samuel Lauderdale, came in looking for a job and talked about how Improve Your Tomorrow lived up to its name through him, Jones hired the young man.

“While I was interviewing him, he referenced this program that he went through that really helped him and, in his words, ‘saved his life,’ recalled Jones, who oversees four local Enterprise locations. “That was impactful and it kind of stuck with me.”

As grants became available, Jones dug a little deeper and connected with Improve Your Tomorrow founder Michael Lynch.

“The program is one of those that I think reaches out to kids that otherwise would go down a very bad path,” he said. “To be able to make that connection to see someone who literally said, ‘Hey, I wasn’t going to be much if I didn’t have this program.’ They followed him through school, ensured that he graduated and now he’s working for us with a very promising career.”

Support for a program that has that kind of impact was a “no-brainer,” Jones said. “We want to get involved, not just give money. We want to volunteer, we want to do everything we can to be a part of that.”

Drive To Serve

Being involved in the community matters, Jones said. “We’ve gone from asking our people to have a volunteer day, to taking it a step further to where we actually give them a paid day off to volunteer.”

Enterprise recently made volunteering a prerequisite to promotion within the company.

Jones said the ROAD Forward initiative “puts purpose” to efforts some were already making. “We beefed it up and it’s really exciting.”

In the wake of the police-involved deaths of unarmed African Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, countless corporations have promised to do better with equity and inclusion. Jones said Enterprise’s commitment of at least five years speaks to a desire to have a long-term impact.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we will probably keep that going. It’s just been so impactful,” he said.

Jones has been with Enterprise for 15 years. In addition to managing rental car locations in the Arden area, South Sacramento, on Power Inn Road, Franklin Boulevard and at the Elk Grove Auto Mall, Jones also helps Enterprise move its equity and inclusion work forward.

“We created councils on each (senior vice president) team, so there’s basically regions of states that have councils that were focusing things on internal hiring, our interview process, and resources for underserved communities and employees, because we employ people that come from underserved communities,” he said. Jones serves on the West Coast council.

“The conversations that we’re having are very candid,” he said. “They’re tough, but we’re looking internally, to make sure that we’re doing the right things within our organization to where we can be a beacon within the communities that we have here.”

For Jones, the commitment to community service stems from his childhood in North Sacramento.

“My dad was heavily involved in the community. He was the president of a youth football organization in North Highlands,” he said. “Following in my father’s footsteps, I’ve been really trying to be involved in the community and being a part of both (Enterprise’s) Sacramento diversity, equity and inclusion team as well as the West Coast diversity, equity and inclusion team, I’m able to put some of that stuff in actionable steps of mentoring young women and men of color. It’s been really great.”

The first Road Forward grants were distributed in 2021 and totaled more than $7 million across nearly 700 nonprofits in communities throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. This year’s grants bring Enterprise’s total allocation in 2021 and 2022 to approximately $34 million. In addition to the local-market grants, $20 million also goes to four nationally renowned nonprofits: The Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, The United Negro College Fund, Girls Inc., and Parents as Teachers.

For more on the ROAD Forward grants, visit