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May 2, 2020

Strive to Thrive Student Blog - Spring 2020

Strive to Thrive Student Blog - Spring 2020
The senior-level class, Leading People and Projects (MGMT 411), provides a semester-long project for business students called Strive to Thrive Lincoln. The class helps students gain knowledge of philanthropy in the Lincoln community. Students receive hands-on experience focusing on what it takes to manage a grant proposal process which ultimately awards $10,000 to local non-profits made possible through a gift by Rhonda Seacrest. Students also volunteer their service on outreach projects. 

The fall Strive to Thrive weekly content on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and this student blog will be run by the social media team of the class. Our team includes six members; Anna Wickham senior management/entrepreneurship major from Columbus, Nebraska; Haojie Yan senior management major from China; Zach Williams senior marketing major from Shorewood, Minnesota; Shelbe Stroh junior management major from Omaha, Nebraska; Ego Obiaka junior management major from Omaha, Nebraska; and Gavin Iverson senior management major from Wahoo, Nebraska.

5/1/20 - And the Award Winners Are...

Dr. Amber Messersmith and students connected via Zoom to recognize the grant recipients for the spring 2020 semester.
Dr. Amber Messersmith and students connected via Zoom to recognize the grant recipients for the spring 2020 semester.

Non-profit organizations have contributed to this community, this country, this world. During this period, the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 caught many people off guard and many NPOs were forced to suspend their activities. There are also some NPOs that quickly responded to COVID-19. For example, Food Fort (one of the winners) provided food to low-income families during COVID-19. Our MNGT411 plan was also forced to adjust, the previous Site Visit was adjusted to Virtual Site Visit. We conducted an online ceremony through Zoom this week.

Last week, we negotiated and voted that the winners of the Spring 2020 Strive to Thrive Lincoln grant are: the Food Fort and the Belmont Community Center. They will each receive a grant of $ 5,000 and used to better serve this community. The Food Fort provides free meals for children, including fresh produce from their garden. It can also provide guidance for children to help them complete their homework. They plan to use the money to expand the garden to provide more fresh produce, and let the children take charge of the management of the garden to help the children build a sense of responsibility. The Belmont Community Center offers many opportunities for students, who provide low-income families with two meals a day during the summer. And the staff of the community center are mostly UNL education majors, helping students learn and expand their creativity outside the school.

Time passed quickly, and in a blink of an eye we had reached the last week. More than fifty students of MNGT411 spent four months to understand and study non-profit organizations. See you in Fall 2020, everyone take care and stay healthy.

4/24/20 - Narrowing Things Down

Due to the impact COVID-19 has had on the whole university, the Strive to Thrive team has been working extremely had to stay on the right track. Due to the pandemic site visits were held over zoom calls, and we still got amazing information and conversations from each NPO. Although we didn’t have time for each student to visit each site, we were split into groups to evaluate two NPO’s.

Currently we are in week two of our class deliberations. This is the process of us narrowing down on specific NPO’s we feel like should receive the money. Each and every student is allowed the opportunity to voice any and all comments about the remaining 16 nonprofits. This allows us to carefully take into consideration every detail of each organization (application, site visit experiences, etc.) This process is very important while at the same time very complicated, all of our applicants we feel like are great candidates, so this could be a very timely process.

4/11/20 - Transitioning to Online Classes Due to COVID-19

Zoom meetings help facilitate evaluations of non-profits applying for the grants.
Zoom meetings help facilitate evaluations of non-profits applying for the grants.
Students are transitioning to online classes and practicing social distancing! However, this has brought on a new protocol. Just this last week, students wrapped up their virtual site visits. While the students were bummed that they were unable to see the non-profits in person, the non-profit representatives were very appreciative of the students’ efforts, just like we are so appreciative of their efforts! Site visits on Zoom consisted of discussing daily functions of the non-profit, their proposed project, and their impact in the community during COVID-19. Some site visit groups even asked how their proposed project and budget might be affected due to the pandemic.

This week consisted of students putting together presentations based on their virtual site visits. Once all presentations are complete, students will share it with the rest of the class and carry-out deliberations. It is exciting to see the end so near, but we are planning to do the award ceremony on a virtual platform as well.

During this time, we are grateful for the staff and students who are working hard to make sure this year ends on a strong need. Dr. Messersmith has done an excellent job of keeping her students informed of the remaining tasks and always knows how to turn a seemingly difficult situation into a positive.

The Strive to Thrive class of spring 2020 will be the only class to carry-out the mission and award grant money to a non-profit during a pandemic! The class can’t wait to share their thoughts and experiences with the class of fall 2020. While their experience will be unlike ours, there is still so much they can learn from the class!

4/4/20 - Class Deliberations and the Coronavirus Difficulties

What a whirlwind of a few weeks. Since our last update, class has completely moved to online functionality and we have come back from our spring break, ready to keep pushing forward in our NPO selection process.

The week before spring break, our Class Deliberations task group led class sessions as we determined which of our 31 applicants to move forward with and move to our finalists. During 2 class sessions which were heavy on meaningful, thoughtful dialogue from our classmates, we were able to narrow that list down to 16 nonprofits we would take site visits to and visit their facilities. The class’ discussion was thought-invoking, really considering all the different ways each nonprofit fit in with our mission statement and how closely aligned our goals really were. Many different voices and opinions were heard and while not completely unanimous, we felt confident as a whole going into spring break with the NPO’s we planned to visit.

Unforeseen events happened, and the COVID-19 pandemic restricted any public gatherings of 10 or more people. Our class moved to online, and we were crushed to not be able to see any of these wonderful 16 NPO’s in person. However, we must make the best of poor situations, and the week returning from spring break we hit the ground running and had Zoom Virtual Site visits with representatives from each of the 16 nonprofits on Monday and Wednesday. It was great to get the opportunity to meet with the leaders of these various nonprofits and get to ask them questions, getting to know them and their nonprofit better than any application can indicate.

As we move forward, we look forward to the further deliberations that will occur after the site visit groups give their presentations regarding their findings from the site visits. We’re making the best of everything right now and we can’t wait to see who will be awarded the grant at the end of the semester.

3/8/20 - NPO Interview and Evaluation

Strive to Thrive students visit the Food Bank.
Strive to Thrive students visit the.Food Bank

Another busy week. In the MNGT 411 class on Monday, we divided into 7 groups to reflect and evaluate the past Service Project. We discussed what we learned and what we observed during the service project. In the service project, my classmates and I participated in the work of non-profit organizations as volunteers. This experience has given us a sense of happiness and accomplishment, and a clearer understanding of how non-profits work. Thanks to the work of the service project group, we have a wonderful experience?It also helps us to have a clearer view, to understand and help these organizations. Additionally, in the group I participated in the discussion, several members said that they would be more involved in similar volunteer work in the future.

This Friday we need to complete all Application Evaluation forms. This time we need to look at the applications of 29 non-profit organizations, including Form 501c, 990, Application (including the organization's mission statement, brief description) and budget statement. we will evaluate and rate these 29 organizations based on these files.

There is another very important task this week, NPO-interviews. Two weeks ago, we selected a non-profit organization for each group that had an impact and contribution to the Lincoln / Lancaster community, and did a lot of research before conducting the interview. My partner, Derek Sis, chose the Food Bank of Lincoln and completed our interview on Monday. We interviewed John Mabey, the Development Director of Food Bank of Lincoln. The Food Bank of Lincoln is committed to reducing hunger in southeast Nebraska by trucking food to families in need. Their service area is 93 square miles including 16 communities. However, Derek and I learned that the biggest problem currently plagued them was funding. The Food Bank of Lincoln wants to scale up to serve more families, and they cannot expand due to funding issues and shortages of human resources. This is also a problem faced by many other non-profit organizations. All our students at MNGT 411 will also study hard to ensure that decisions on future grant decisions can really help non-profits.

We will finish the reflection paper of the NPO interview on the weekend to summarize our experience of this NPO interview. Thanks to Food Bank of Lincoln and other non-profits who have worked hard to improve life in our region despite the difficulties.

2/28/20 - Outreach

Strive to Thrive students visit The Lighthouse.
Strive to Thrive students visit The Lighthouse.
Strive to Thrive had the pleasure of attending The Lighthouse, an accredited After-School Program that offers middle and high school support. This is a safe spot for children to attend when they are released every day from school. This is a good mixture of fun, while still instilling the educational success aspect into the kids. After arriving at the house, we were privileged enough to get a tour of the whole facility. Following the tour, we split into 2 groups to help with simple cleaning of the facility. This was a great experience while cleaning we got to meet a couple of the students and talk to them to see how they felt personally about Lighthouse. This experience was very humbling, learning how important this headquarters is to students and how much they benefit from it was extremely surprising. After both groups were done cleaning we regrouped in the gym, to discuss our experiences. Our tour guide was amazing, we ended the day by playing a game of knockout in the gymnasium. This was an amazing experience and we love being able to assist in such a great campaign.

2/21/20 - Funder Insights and Service Projects

Representatives from Lincoln Community Foundation, Cooper Foundation, Woods Charitable Foundation and United Way visit class to talk to students about the process of accepting grant applications.
Representatives from Lincoln Community Foundation, Cooper Foundation, Woods Charitable Foundation and United Way visit class to talk to students about the process of accepting grant applications.
This week in class we had the privilege of listening to representatives from each of the following non-profit funders: Lincoln Community Foundation, Cooper Foundation, Woods Charitable Foundation and United Way. Each foundation representative provided some insight on the process of accepting applicants for grant money along with the criteria they look for. In addition, the representatives mentioned the importance of site visits, which the class will be taking part in later this semester.

Here are a few useful facts to sum up the foundations’ purposes:

The Lincoln Community Foundation’s mission is to “provide leadership and resources to build a great city.” The foundation accepts applications from all local non-profit organizations. Give to Lincoln is an event held annually at the foundation that showcases a great deal of generosity and respect for the Lincoln community.

The Cooper Foundation is considered a responsive funder and takes pride in supporting strong, sustainable non-profit organizations. Their simplified application is designed to increase communication among applicants and foster fruitful relationships; similar to the goal of Strive to Thrive.

The Woods Charitable Foundation averages around a million and half grants per year and looks for organizations that take a creative approach in fulfilling community needs. The foundation is interested in but not limited to, reviewing pilot projects and innovative programs.

Dr. Messersmith joins with students at Chapter 25 to fill meal bags.
Dr. Messersmith joins with students at Chapter 25 to fill meal bags.
Lastly, United Way are leaders in providing funds to programs that will make an impact on Lincoln. The organization identifies pressing issues and actively seeks solutions with the help of volunteers. The difference in United Way is that the charity doesn’t focus on a single group or issue but instead combats issues as a whole.

The most impactful takeaway from the funder panel includes taking into consideration all applicants, regardless of the application’s presentation. Most non-profit organization directors are balancing multiple things at once while in the process of filling out grant applications. It’s important, as a class, that we get down to the sole purpose of the organization and their plan for the allocation of the grant money.

Aside from an enlightening in-class funders panel, a few students recently took part in a service project at Chapter 25. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the students, Aubrey Sotolongo, who volunteered her time at the non-profit organization last Saturday. Aubrey and several other students were alongside Dr. Amber Messersmith for a little under three hours, filling meal bags using the ingredients provided that were then weighed, sealed, and packaged into boxes for shipment. Each person was in charge of either pouring one ingredient, weighing, or sealing the bag. By the end of the job, each person had assembled roughly 244 meal bags! Aubrey also stated in her interview, “it was incredible to spend just a few hours of my day giving to working towards feeding starving children. The culture at Chapter 25 was inspiring and welcoming. They are a motivated organization that doesn’t need a lot to operate but they will make an impact in a big way.” After such an empowering experience, Aubrey and the other students hope to see Chapter 25 partner with other non-profit organizations here in Lincoln with similar goals to continue providing food to starving children.

2/14/20 - Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses

Last semester's grant recipients talked to the Strive to Thrive Lincoln students.
Last semester's grant recipients talked to the Strive to Thrive Lincoln students.
It was another busy week for our management 411 class. Mondays class consisted of our task groups getting together to assess what our strengths and weaknesses are. Once you fully understand each member's strengths, it becomes much easier to obtain the goal you are seeking.

On Wednesday our class had the pleasure of having a riveting Q&A panel with last semester's grant recipients Morgan Kazanjian from The Bay and Lizzie Mattox and Brad Bryan from City Impact. The management 411 class had the opportunity to ask questions involving what the organizations did with the grant, how to improve on different aspects of the grant process, and lastly stories about why they continue life changing work in their organizations. Both organizations representatives explained to our students how impactful the Strive to Thrive grant was. Morgan Kazanjian commented saying that having Strive to Thrive on your ‘resume’ of grants received is an honor especially since The Bay is an organization whose primary focus is helping kids- having received a grant from college aged students makes their mission relevant to people around that age. We cannot thank Brad, Lizzie, or Morgan enough for opening our eyes to the impact that this grant can make to local nonprofits.

We want to be sure that our grant goes toward a company that we believe will make a true change. To ensure this happens, we will be taking site visits and asking thorough questions. We have many site visits coming up that the students of Strive will be volunteering for. It will be a good learning opportunity for us to get out of our comfort zone and help those in need.

2/6/20 - Serving Youth

Following Dr. Shank’s visit last week, we, as a class, had many things to consider when forming our mission. Her visit spotlighted a lot of the things that Lincoln is succeeding in, including how amazing this city is doing in terms of stimulating business; however, it also shined a light on the areas in which Lincoln needs to improve. There were a lot of terrific suggestions from the class including families below the poverty line, treatment of animals, and mental health. That being said, the majority of the class all had the same overarching theme, the poverty level in Lincoln and how that relates to the youth in the area.

Our task in class this week was to determine a mission statement with this goal in mind that would attract nonprofit organizations that all felt similarly to us about improving the lives of Lincoln/Lancaster County youth. While it sounds like a simple task to develop a mission statement, it proved to be one that caused much deliberation and debate within the class over the course of 2 class sessions. Much of the debate revolved around specific words and the connotations behind those words, what exactly are we trying to promote via our grant. We went back and forth on whether we wanted to include words like enrich, empower, and impact in our mission statement and how while similar, those words all tell a different story.

After the dust settled, we finally came to a mostly unanimous decision that our class’s mission statement would be as follows: “Strive to Thrive Lincoln provides Nebraska Business students in the Management 411 class with the opportunity to grant funds to sustainable nonprofit organizations that are committed to serving youth in need within Lincoln and Lancaster County.” We believe this is the best way to communicate that we are looking to uplift the youth of the community, meanwhile keeping it generic enough to get a range of youth programs that apply for the grant.

Some odds and ends to note from this week as well; our Service Project task group coordinated our class’s various service projects and arranged us in groups based on our preferences. We’re proud to announce that we’ll be able to assist The Heartland Cancer Foundation, People’s City Mission, Lulu’s on N, Lincoln Kids Against Hunger, Lighthouse, and Educare with our efforts and we couldn’t be more excited to get these projects underway.

2/3/20 - In Full Swing!

Nancy Shank speaks to the Strive to Thrive Lincoln students.
Nancy Shank speaks to the Strive to Thrive Lincoln students.
The 2020 spring semester is in full swing and the Management 411 class has been off to a great start! The concept of Leading People and Projects is so incredibly unique for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Business. In this class, the students get to learn the ins and outs of Lincoln area nonprofits who will be applying for the $10,000 grant (donated by Rhonda Seacrest), and learning the process of applications and selecting a candidate. We look forward to what the class has in store. Throughout the semester we will be blogging each step of the process so readers can get a better understanding of what the Management 411 students have been learning.

Last week, Kyle Cartwright, Executive Director of the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and a seasoned veteran, spoke to the Strive to Thrive Lincoln class regarding the financial directives of nonprofits, and gave us an overall landscape of the Lincoln nonprofit community. Cartwright took the time to break down a Form 990 tax document and how to read the form in simpler terms, showing us how to figure out the various ratios and spending amounts that nonprofits take pride in. During this period, we learned that Lincoln is home to a thriving nonprofit community that includes over 500 organizations, and that collaboration among nonprofits could be something we, as a class, could look to promote. We’re extremely grateful that someone like Kyle continues to show a commitment to the class and his ideas served as a perfect springboard for our semester.

This Wednesday, Nancy Shank spoke to our class about her work with the University of Nebraska Public Policies Center and Prosper Lincoln. She spoke about what Lincoln’s goals are for the next few years, where we need improvements and where Lincoln is shining compared to other cities around the United States. We read through the Lincoln Vital Signs report and analyzed different data points so our class could get a better understanding of our community and what areas needed the most help. Nancy informed us all about what it means to be philanthropic and how volunteer work can make a difference in the Lincoln community. She left us with a quote that stuck with us about community service, “expect your community to be a better place because you are in it." 

We cannot thank our two guest speakers enough for informing us on such great topics, we know that we will use this information to make the best decisions this semester.