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Students Award $10,000 to Nonprofits Despite Pandemic Setback

Strive to Thrive Lincoln Project Teaches Philanthropy
Students Award $10,000 to Nonprofits Despite Pandemic Setback
Michaela Akridge, founder and executive director of Food Fort, thanked Nebraska Business students for their resolve during the COVID-19 pandemic while accepting her organization’s award during the Strive to Thrive Lincoln virtual ceremony.

When conditions got tough, College of Business students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln intensified their resolve. Students in the Strive to Thrive Lincoln project tackled the grant funding application process during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide $10,000 to two local nonprofits that assist at-risk youth in the local community.

The Strive to Thrive Lincoln project conducted within the Leading People and Projects (MNGT 411) class, used funds provided by philanthropist Rhonda Seacrest, of Lincoln, Nebraska. The class design facilitates raising awareness of students to areas of need in the community while also providing assistance.

“From our view point, the students and their professor (Dr. Amber Messersmith, lecturer of management) made a seamless transition to Zoom meetings and providing up-to-date information,” said Trey Zimmerman, executive director of Belmont Community Center, who along with Food Fort received $5,000 awards each. “With the COVID-19 situation, many ‘normal’ processes were no longer possible. I was impressed with the students during a virtual tour meeting we had, and they asked thoughtful questions that showed a genuine interest in our youth programs.”

Zimmerman and his team plan to use the money to provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities for 140 children who use Belmont services. He believes the confidence they gain from the learning experiences is essential and helps them dive deeper into areas where they might otherwise fall behind.

Dr. Amber Messersmith, lecturer of management, leads the Strive to Thrive Lincoln ceremony which awarded to $5,000 grants to local nonprofits.
Dr. Amber Messersmith, lecturer of management, leads the Strive to Thrive Lincoln ceremony which awarded to $5,000 grants to local nonprofits.

Food Fort became a repeat grant recipient of the Strive to Thrive Lincoln project in the Leading People and Projects (MNGT 411) management class. The organization aspires to provide food to children in need, and do it with respect and love to make a positive impact in Lincoln.

“It’s a tremendous blessing to receive support during a time like this,” said Michaela Akridge, founder and director of Food Fort, who plans to use the funds to hire a teenage worker to help grow crops, and in turn teach job acquisition, accountability and hard work. “Working with these students makes me feel like I’m a part of the class. I wish I could have taken this class. Once we get back to normal we plan to use these funds as soon as possible.”

Messersmith led the virtual Zoom meeting where recipients received formal notification of their awards. She described the preceding two months as challenging but also a success for everyone involved.

“It was a semester like none other,” said Messersmith. “Literally one day after students determined the 14 nonprofits where they wanted to take site visits, the university announced all classes were going to be moving to remote learning. We managed the rest of the grant process online, including site visits, deliberations and officially awarding the grants at today’s ceremony.”

Despite difficulties, she saw the students move forward instead of letting the remote situation bring them to a halt.

“Thinking about all the changes and adjustments we made in class, I came to the realization that we took a page out of the nonprofit playbook. We had to constantly readjust and reframe, just like nonprofits do when circumstances change, when something runs out, when employees change, when laws and policies that affect the work you do are revised. Instead of closing down, we figured it out and were committed to making Lincoln and Lancaster County a better place for us all,” Messersmith said.

Dr. Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the College of Business, told students at the virtual awards ceremony to be proud of their resilience during the extenuating circumstances of the pandemic. She sees their example as a model for others to follow.

“In our current situation, supporting our neighbors is more important than ever,” said Farrell. “Our success as a community is not based solely on individual success. While we must write our own stories, I challenge students, business community members and volunteers to continue asking questions on how to collaborate and cultivate innovative relationships that best impact our community.”

In addition to the grant awards, Strive to Feed Lincoln students also raised $1,635 for the Center for People in Need. The organization estimates 327 people can be fed from the donations during May.

To learn more about the Strive to Thrive Lincoln project, visit:

To learn more about Rhonda Seacrest and her efforts to empower students and the community, visit:

Published: May 5, 2020