Economics Class Donates $10,000 To Community Food Initiatives

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A unique new course is enabling Ohio University students to become philanthropists in a venture designed to teach them ways to effectively contribute to their communities.
The Economics of Altruism class, taught by OU Associate Professor Julia Paxton, has partnered with Warren and Doris Buffet’s Learning by Giving Foundation, and the class will choose a deserving local non-profit organization each year to be the recipient of $10,000.
Ohio University recently joined a group of 30 elite universities that have partnered with the Learning by Giving Foundation. Warren Buffet has pledged to give away his vast wealth and is interested in teaching today’s youth about civic responsibility and effective philanthropy, Paxton explained. Each time the course is taught during the next seven years, the Learning by Giving Foundation will enable OU students to give away $10,000 within their local community.
At the start of fall semester, students in Paxton’s class started a comprehensive screening of 80 local nonprofits and narrowed the search to four after three weeks. Each student then completed 20 volunteer hours with one of the four final organizations selected, and a rigorous analysis was conducted to determine which one should be the recipient of $10,000.
As a result of the student’s efforts, Community Food Initiatives was chosen as the first recipient of this year’s philanthropic effort.
CFI partners with community members to provide fresh, local produce and food items to those who need it most. The organization also educates people of all ages by hosting workshops about gardening and food preservation, and manages community and school gardens in an effort to teach others how to grow and market their produce.
The service learning requirement of 20 volunteer hours directly tied into the class’ curricular component, which focused on institutional analysis and effective philanthropy, said Paxton.
“Students in the class are all Honors Tutorial College students and a couple of stellar economics students. Every student in here is the best and brightest at Ohio University, so it’s really been great working with them,” she said.
Kate Clausen, a junior majoring in organizational communications and a member of the group who researched CFI, gave a brief presentation in Bentley Hall last week which detailed the volunteerism that she and three of her peers completed while analyzing CFI’s community involvement.
“We created a mission statement for our foundation, which is what the class was acting as, and we used this to guide how we looked at organizations,” she explained.
Clausen volunteered with CFI’s Donation Station at the Athens Farmers Market and observed how local farmers interacted with the organization.
“It was a very cool experience to be able to see the community in that way, and to be able to see the community that CFI cultivates and to see the way that the farmers interact with CFI and the personal relationships there. It was a unique energy and not really a community that you get to see very often,” she said of the experience.
The Plains Elementary School Garden, which is organized by CFI and seeks to educate young students about gardening, was also observed by Clausen. “The students may not understand the importance of it now, but just being in that environment and being around the planting and gardening and having someone talk to them about it I think will leave a lasting impact on their food and gardening abilities in the future,” she said.
CFI addresses the vital needs of those living in Athens County, which has the highest poverty and obesity rates in the state, noted Haley Trottier, a junior majoring in communication sciences and disorders who also was in the group researching CFI.
“The lack of food security and the lack of access to fresh, healthy food is a very big problem. CFI has a big, important role in the region and is really trying to take steps to end food insecurity in a variety of ways,” she said.
“Every event we went to, we could feel a sense of community and see how the community was important to CFI,” Trottier continued. “The integrated effort between everyone involved really helps to make CFI a strong, relevant work model.”
Following the presentation by the four students who were responsible for analyzing CFI based on a specific set of criteria, Paxton presented Mary Nally, executive director of CFI, with a certificate.
“It’s been wonderful to work with this class and students to give them the opportunity to see the community in action, and it’s been very exciting and very humbling for all of us,” Nally said.
Appalachia is a chronically ignored portion of the country when looking at where the money is and job opportunities are, and it’s easy to have a fatalist point of view when operating a nonprofit organization, she continued.
The challenge is to be creative, innovative and determined to focus on the positive assets the region has, Nally said.
“We don’t have a lot of financial wealth here, generally speaking, but we have all of this rural countryside,” she said. “We have good soil. We have people in our community who have been saving seeds for generations to feed their families and feed their neighbors. We have people here who know how to farm and know how to preserve food, and one of the best things in Appalachia is there’s a very strong sense of community ties, and people really care about each other and feel a responsibility towards their neighbors and towards their families.”