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Obama recognizes CNN Hero from New Jersey

  • Story Highlights
  • President Obama highlights work of CNN Hero at White House event
  • Alfa Demmellash helps low-income entrepreneurs start or grow their businesses
  • Her nonprofit, Rising Tide Capital, primarily serves single mothers
  • Do you know a hero? Nominations are open at CNN.com/Heroes
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A woman saluted as a CNN Hero was among a group of creative philanthropists honored Tuesday by President Obama.

Alfa Demmellash helps low-income entrepreneurs in New  Jersey start or grow their businesses.

Alfa Demmellash helps low-income entrepreneurs in New Jersey start or grow their businesses.

The White House event highlighted nonprofit programs that are making a difference. Alfa Demmellash was invited after White House staffers saw her being profiled on CNN.

Demmellash runs Rising Tide Capital, a company in New Jersey that helps low-income entrepreneurs start or grow their businesses.

Her organization "helps struggling mom-and-pop entrepreneurs get loans, run their businesses and improve their profit margins," Obama told the gathering at the East Room of the White House.

"Seventy percent of their clients are single moms. All of them rely on their businesses to support their families. And so far, Rising Tide has helped 250 business owners in the state of New Jersey.

"Imagine if they could help 500 or 1,000 or more ... all across America. If we empower organizations like these, think about the number of young people ... whose lives we can change, the number of families whose livelihoods we can boost." Video Watch Obama call attention to Demmellash's program »

Obama pointed out Demmelash to the crowd with his trademark self-deprecating humor: "We've got Alfa Demmellash from Rising Tide Capital ... where's Alfa ... right over there. Did I pronounce your name right? Good. When your name's Barack Obama, you're sensitive to these things."

Demmellash, who was born in Ethiopia, started Rising Tide in 2004 with Harvard University classmate Alex Forrester -- now her husband -- to help those who had ideas and abilities but needed the education and support to launch or grow their businesses.

The group runs the Community Business Academy, an intensive training session coupled with year-round coaching and mentorship to help individuals "really work on the hands-on management side of their business," Demmellash said.

The organization supports underserved populations, including women, the formerly incarcerated, minorities, the unemployed and working poor, and immigrants and refugees.

Rising Tide Capital raises money from corporations and works with local governments for funding in order to provide classes and support its participants at affordable costs.

Participants pay a small materials and registration fee based on their income range: either $100 or $225 for the course that Demmellash says would cost thousands of dollars otherwise.

The organization has also built partnerships with micro-lenders, so when students are ready, the lenders provide financing.

Many of the students use the increased earnings from their new businesses to supplement their wages, allowing them to better provide for their families and transform the face of their communities, according to Demmellash.

"I am personally blown away that our work as a small grass-roots organization made it onto [the president's] radar," Demmellash wrote in an e-mail after the White House event. "But the validation and meaning his recognition gives to the efforts of the many struggling entrepreneurs in this country working to achieve self sufficiency and create jobs as well as those hundreds in this field working to support them is immeasurable. Video Watch Demmellash react to being invited to the White House »

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"I am grateful for his support and for CNN Heroes for bringing our story of economic hope, perseverance and self-reliance that is central to the American dream to the ears of our president."

Want to get involved? Check out Rising Tide Capital's Web site and see how to help.

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