Thousands of internship hours. Hundreds of projects. And more than $60,000 in the past five years—and counting. It sounds like a massive fundraising project, and it is, but not for Central College. Central has special connections with community partners throughout central Iowa, and students have donated time to hundreds of organizations. In one course, they use their writing skills to earn grants for nonprofit organizations—and make a big impact.
Almost 20 years ago, Walter Cannon, professor of English, decided to develop a unique and dual-purpose class that used service-learning to teach writing. It started out as a writing course with a service-learning component, and it developed into the upper-level course Writing for Non-Profit Organizations, which focuses on the idea of service itself.
“The subject matter of the course is really service—what it is that makes our culture work and this idea of civic engagement,” Cannon says. “So all the students are connected with a social-service organization for which they work on professional writing, like brochures, press releases and annual report surveys.”
Placements are based on the needs of the community and students’ interests. Each student chooses a different organization that has requested help with writing. This past year, students worked at the Marion County Habitat for Humanity, Everybody Wins! Iowa, Many Hands for Haiti, Hispanic Educational Resources, Creative Visions, Park Center, Red Rock Lake Association and many more.
Throughout the years, several students have found careers through the community partners, but Cannon is quick to say that one of Central’s own is the “best success story.” Cheri Doane ’98, now director of community-based learning, came to Central as a non-traditional student with a passion for service. Hearing about the newly established writing class, Doane decided to add it to her already full schedule.
“It was really the class the propelled me into this profession,” Doane says. “The class covers all kinds of community related topics, but in the end it’s really about instilling the notion of community and the importance of connectedness. I had always innately known that we all depend on each other, because I really was raised in a home that reinforced that. But in this class you’re really encouraged to reflect on that.”
Working at Central, Doane now develops and sustains relationships with more than a hundred community organizations whose leaders want to mentor Central students.
As the needs of the organizations changed, so did Cannon’s class. Many of the partners expressed a need for grant-writing—a particular skill many students don’t have. So Cannon developed a three-week unit where students practice their proposal writing. The model can then be used in their prospective work environments.
Since the unit began, students have written grants that have been accepted by various foundations and funding agencies; upwards of $60,000 in the past five years have been awarded to various organizations with the help of their Central students.
Michelle Blair ’12 wrote grants and a variety of other projects for Everybody Wins! Iowa during her time in Writing for Non-Profit Organizations. Now she is an AmeriCorps State of Iowa Promise member serving as the program coordinator for Everybody Wins! Iowa. She organizes new programs, plans a variety of events, assists with grant writing and builds relationships with local colleges to promote internship and service-learning opportunities.
“The class taught me a lot about the grant writing aspects of nonprofit organizations,” Blair recalls. “It also helped that I was able to work hands-on with a local nonprofit to actually apply techniques from the class and put what I was learning to use. I was able to write six grants during the semester, and a few of the proposals were accepted.”
Like Blair, students enter the class with little experience and leave with knowledge of a valuable skill—while donating their time and talents to an organization in need. As the class continues to develop with the demands of the community, so do the students who leave the classroom.
“I took many valuable classes during my time at Central, and I am grateful to have had professors who took an active interest in the education of each of their students,” Blair says. “My nonprofit classes not only provided me with a foundation of the subject area, but also provided me with chances to interact with nonprofits in the surrounding community. My experiences at Central have definitely helped me grow into the person I am today.”