Not an average lecture-style course, Baylor University’s philanthropy and the public good class directs thousands of dollars to nonprofit groups after students determine where the money will best improve the community. Andy Hogue, director of Baylor’s Philanthropy and Public Service Program, has taught the course for three years. This semester, the course took on a life of its own when the handful of student groups collaborated with each other and studied models projecting the impact of specific gifts, in some cases “quantifying stubbornly qualitative things,” Hogue said.

 

“They’re confronted with a reality they weren’t expecting: It’s that giving is complex,” Hogue said. “In their hard work to navigate that complexity over the ensuing few weeks and months of the semester, they employed considerable talents in impressive ways. They’ve asked each other some really hard questions.”

 

On Tuesday, 12 organizations received parts of the $62,500 the class had to distribute. The Philanthropy Lab’s Once Upon a Time Foundation provides most of the money the class gets to distribute. Aramark, which provides food and other services at Baylor, contributed to two of the 12 grants. Students Mark Richards, Abby Callison, Katie Yarbro and Julia Stricklin formed one group based on common interests in food insecurity and education.

 

Research

To drill down on the systemic issues related to their chosen topics, the students researched and collected data from a variety of sources, Yarbro said by email. “We are excited to see our work come to fruition, not because we are the ones writing the checks but because we are dedicated to learning, listening and helping the best we can with what we have,” Yarbro wrote. Early on in the process, representatives from local organizations came to the class to make the case for the work their groups do.

 

Caritas executive director Buddy Edwards represented his organization, which offers food, clothing and basic necessities to people in need and has a case management program to better address root causes and long-term solutions to poverty. “(The first pitch) was very helpful to get out information for them and helped create a better understanding of our role that we play in the community,” Edwards said.

 

‘Hard decisions’ 

Students also made site visits with nonprofits they were interested in.

 

“That was the time they came out to Caritas, we showed them around and discussed with them what our operations were,” Edwards said. “We talked a bit more about this particular need that we have. They were very receptive and were all quite interested in what we were doing. “They were very intent on really doing a good job and on making some hard decisions within our community. It was a very, very positive experience.”

 

A mid-April meeting the group had with Hogue after visits with Caritas, World Hunger Relief, Good Neighbor House and Mission Waco led to more specifics of visits and speculations for next steps. “How confident can we be that the inputs lead to the outputs, that the outputs lead to the outcomes?” Hogue asked in the meeting. “Those are the kinds of things you want to be asking.” “The early Christians were not only to practice hospitality but they were to depend on hospitality,” Hogue said Tuesday, quoting an essay on philanthropy. “There’s no ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and ‘my’ was, in essence, the earliest Christian expletive.”

 

Check presentation 

The group opted to grant $7,000 to Good Neighbor House, a months-old organization providing a space for social and educational opportunities in Waco’s Sanger Heights neighborhood. A book club, urban gardening initiative and Girl Scout activities are among the programs already hosted there, along with music and arts initiatives for children and adults. The grant will help pay for an outdoor deck for meeting and performance space.

 

“We believe their work is fruitful and will snowball into big picture change,” Stricklin said. “We really feel this is a strong, stable organization doing good work in Waco. We love the collaborative nature of Good Neighbor and the diversity of people in the organization they attract, all of whom will be supported by this grant.” Caritas also received a $1,250 grant for its case management program to pay for educational support supplies. “I think it’s going to be just a wonderful culmination of our efforts throughout the semester,” Richards said. “There are great things happening on both sides — on the giving side and the receiving side. It’s exciting to know our money is going to specific places and that we can potentially see the fruit of that in months or years to come.”

 

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