Four teams of students from Notre Dame, Saint Marys College,GoshenCollegeand Indiana University South Bend, werent told much about issues facing theMarshallCountyNeighborhoodCenterinPlymouth,Ind., only that it was having difficulties meeting the needs of the communitys changing demographics.
With that limited information and in the spirit of the first case competition hosted by the Indiana Careers Consortium earlier this semester at Saint Marys, their task was to fill in the missing pieces through research and then offer solutions.
One of the oldest social service agencies inMarshallCounty, theNeighborhoodCenter, aUnited Wayagency, was founded 23 years ago and currently runs a food pantry; provides clothing, furniture, appliances, household goods and toys; and offers life skills, budget counseling and energy assistance.
While most of these services have always been offered there, a recent restructuring of the centers board of directors resulted in a new goal.Rather than simply handing out charity, the center now strives to foster independence among its beneficiaries.
Because of our changes, we needed help creating a new public image and revising our internal structure and fundraising efforts,said Jerry Nikitas, the centers director.
Thats where the students came in, but, under the guidelines of the competition, they werent told exactly what was needed unless they asked the right questions.
The lack of information provided to us actually presented our biggest challenge,said Notre Dame senior Trey Williams from Matthews, N.C.We were told very little about the true nature of the centers problems.The competition required a lot of investigation before we could begin.
After a 15-minute question-and-answer session with Nikitas, Williams and his teammates, Matthew Mitchell, Rebecca Spohrer and Danielle Stealy, all seniors at Notre Dame, went to work.They dedicated the bulk of their free time during the first week of the semester to learning all they could about non-profits and brainstorming about the center and its surrounding community.
Their efforts paid off.Presenting a variety of ideas for fundraising, community outreach and volunteer efforts, the Notre Dame team won the competition and the admiration of their advisor, Thomas Harvey, director of the Master of Nonprofit Administration Program in Notre Dames Mendoza College of Business.
They were so well prepared and confident in their recommendations that the judges seemed to view them less as students in a competition, and more as experts in how to make a community center run more efficiently,Harveysaid.
Their ideas werent earth-shattering, according to Williams, just well represented.
We gave a few simple solutions that were applicable to problems the center likely will face in the future,he said.I guess what impressed the judges was the way in which we presented our recommended changes, which included strategic partnerships with other organizations in the community to help expand their budget and services.
Nikitas isnt downplaying their accomplishments.
Were ecstatic!he said.It was incredible the amount of work the students achieved in such a short amount of time.They recommended that we establish a director of donor relations, and were close to having that person in place.They also felt my time could be better utilized if we reworked our budget and hired a part time assistant, which we also have done.
Moved by the whole experience, Stealy escorted a dozen of her friends to the center after the competition was over, and they volunteered for two days of cleaning, painting and organizing.
Volumes of work we could never have paid for,Nikitas said.