Giving to Learn…Learning to Give

News Release Date: 

Ohio State Marion students use research, writing, and grant funds to give back
Written by English 567 students:  Jennifer Miller, Jennifer Piatt, and Joey Yake

This fall quarter in The Ohio State University at Marion’s English 567: Rhetoric and Community Service class, you will not find students burying their heads in books or in libraries doing research papers. Instead, you will find them learning about different people and issues such as homelessness, domestic violence, and aiding youth within the Marion community by observing, interacting with, and working with non-profit organizations in order to record findings and make decisions on how to strengthen the community.

The class of eleven students, taught by Dr. Cassandra Parente, is funded by the National Pay It Forward Student-Led Philanthropy Initiative. The Pay It Forward Initiative is a federally-funded, course-based, service-learning initiative that engages college students in hands-on philanthropy, grant-making, and volunteer service. It provides community non-profit organizations with much needed assistance in the current diminished economic environment. Students will use the knowledge gained through their research to make an informed decision about the community organizations that they feel have the greatest need for financial and service support from the $4,500 grant that they received.

Six organizations applied for the grant. Unfortunately, the class could only select three finalists: Heart of Ohio Mentoring, Turning Point, and The Marion Shelter Program.

Heart of Ohio Mentoring first opened their doors in 1965 as a way to provide positive role models for the at-risk children in this community. Their mission statement portrays simply and strongly what they do:
“They strive to develop quality mentoring relationships inspiring youth to be confident, competent and caring individuals in their community.” This is accomplished by utilizing carefully-screened, positive role model volunteers who are matched by a professional case manager with an at-risk child. Over the years both the menu of programs and the amount of children served has grown. Last year alone they were able to serve over 1,000 children

Heart of Ohio Mentoring is currently seeking to fund a project where local Grant Middle School students will be working with college students from Ohio State Marion and several local professional writers and artists to develop, create, and publish a book. This book will display prose, poetry, and art work created by the students with mentorship from OSU Marion students and other volunteers. This grant would enable the publication the book.

Through taking on such a project, students will not only increase their writing and artistic skills, but they will also have gains in their self-confidence.

Grant Middle School Principal Les Ryle feels that this project, “validates and affirms that these kids are academically capable of doing something that is worthy of recognition… it gives them also a sense of accomplishment, and I think that it really plays into their ethos as much as their academics in that someone does feel that this is important. . . .and it’s going to have huge carry over in other parts of their academic lives.”

Another organization being considered for the grant is Turning Point, an organization which, according to its mission statement “has the social responsibility to respond to the needs of domestic violence victims by providing shelter, counseling, advocacy and general support services and to identify and confront the causes of domestic violence.” Turning Point serves more than just Marion County. They also serve Crawford, Wyndot, Delaware, Marrow, and Union Counties.

Lydia Rall, an English 567 student believes, “It's hard to think what Marion and the surrounding areas would be like if Turning Point were not a part of the community.”

Turning Point applied for the Pay It Forward Initiative grant in order to provide direct client assistance in the form of gas cards, prescriptions, phone cards, school-related expenses, document replacement, and client relocation. This is all in an attempt to allow clients to move on with normal lives and start over if need be.

Interviews with staff members at Turning Point revealed there is a need for such assistance.

As Resident Coordinator Kristi Butler explained, “people go to the ER for abuse situations, and they get prescriptions. If you have no money, and you have no clothes, and you walked in off of the street, how are you going to get money to pay for that prescription?”

Outreach advocate Joan Markley added, “in order for our clients to find jobs or housing or whatever, if they’re lucky enough to have a car, the gas cards are so critical.”

The final organization in the running for the grant is the Marion Shelter Program, which has been serving Marion and surrounding counties since 1988. They have provided services to 6,000 men, women, families and couples. Their mission statement reads, “To compassionately address the needs of homeless individuals, families and couples by providing safe shelter, food, basic necessities and a structured opportunity to regain self-sufficiency.”

The Marion Shelter seeks to fund a project that will work with convicted felons as they re-integrate into the community. Individuals who possess a felony conviction have increased barriers to housing and employment. This past July, The Marion Shelter Program became a member of the Marion and Crawford County Reentry Coalition. They will serve at least 20 individuals through the Reentry Program, providing emergency shelter service for those who have nowhere to live after their release. Participants receive structured case management from their intake to exit, are required to attend weekly financial literacy classes, attend functions where topics on substance abuse are being discussed, and conduct three job searches per day. The expected outcome of this project is that residents find and maintain a source of steady income and a stable housing environment.

When asked about the work the class is doing with the Marion Shelter Program, one student stated, “seeing what a felon goes through upon reentry made me hurt for them. I’m glad that I now have an opportunity to make a difference and help so many people.”

Chuck Bulick, Executive Director of the Marion Shelter Program summed up the value of the program in an interview conducted by a student in the class: “It’s a vitally important program…this is a difficult population but people do deserve a second chance and that’s what we’re trying to give them.”

“In the end, this Pay It Forward project seems to not only be playing a role in the lives of those being served by the three finalists, but also the students as we seek to bring awareness to the community” said student Skylar McEntire.

The students have all been giving their decision a lot of thought and continue to do research to make an informed decision. They’ve engaged in service activities to benefit each organization ranging from recording public service announcements to creating holiday mailers, and even began their own fundraising campaign to augment the grant funds: a bake sale held for two days on campus. They will be presenting the funds to the organization(s) they choose at a formal celebration on December 9th at The Ohio State University at Marion.

This class certainly raises the need for community awareness and action. The need for help is great, even in the small town of Marion, Ohio.