By Adam King
Jenn Meyer, a junior in Public Affairs at Ohio State, never really thought about “how” the nonprofits she volunteered for functioned. She just wanted to give back to the community.
That’s why she was thrilled when she found out OSU offered a program that installed third- and fourth-year students as non-voting members of participating Columbus nonprofit boards. It truly opened her eyes to the breadth and depth of the effort required to deliver community goodwill.
The Board Immersion Program in the Office of Student Life placed Meyer with her top choice, the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, an organization that assists youth who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual or queer. Students could rank their favorite organization among Kaleidoscope, Neighborhood Services Inc. or Broad Street Food Pantry, but a final determination was made based on their service history, interests and application essay responses.
“I wanted to be placed on their board because it is such a unique organization with a cause that is often overlooked,” Meyer said.
And she came away encouraged by what she observed: That even with tight budgets and a continuing struggle to find sponsorships, how much one invests personally in the cause is still the most important driver of a nonprofit organization.
“This program truly provides raw insight into the struggles and triumphs that occur within nonprofits,” Meyer said. “After hearing from one youth how KYC saved her life, I know my entire experience has been worthwhile and I am truly making an impact in the OSU community.”
The Board Immersion Program requires students to perform 16 hours of service per semester; at least eight with their partnered organization. That encourages the students to become hands-on in every aspect of the organization and engage with the clients those organizations serve. When they return to the boardroom, they sometimes forget they are just visiting.
“Oftentimes I feel so invested in issues that I feel as though I should be voting,” Meyer said.
Stephanie Shoenfelt is equally passionate about nonprofit work. The junior in Public Affairs originally planned to minor in Nonprofit Management before switching to Global Public Health, so entering the Board Immersion Program seemed the perfect way to round out her education.
She was paired with Neighborhood Services Inc., a food pantry in the University District on the corner of 4th and 18th. Her time there convinced her to add “nonprofit board member” to her list of personal goals.
“One of my favorite parts of working with NSI was its location to campus,” Shoenfelt said. “It is just east of most of the off-campus student housing and within walking distance for many neighborhoods. It was amazing to see such a successful food pantry in the University District. Not to mention, they serve students as well as families. It allowed me to gain valuable experience and make some great connections with community members that devote a considerable amount of time outside of their everyday lives to help those surrounding them.”
This is the second year for the spring program, though Immersion Board advisor Kate Stucke said the idea has been in development for four or five years. She deems it a success from the students’ perspective because they attain leadership skills and a more extensive professional network. But the participating organizations also gain something.
“You get students who come from different walks of life and have different levels of understanding about what it means to engage in volunteerism,” Stucke said. “They’re bringing their experiences from the classroom and something different to the table. They’re really offering up their opinions and ideas in a collaborative way. The boards like the idea of them being consultants, a fresh set of eyes.”
As part of their service, students put their heads together and create projects to help advance each organization. The Immersion Program provides $100 toward each project.
Shoenfelt and Molly Young, for example, are planning a golf fundraiser at Raymond Memorial Golf Course for NSI.
“It is our final project and we are extremely excited to be able to help the organization raise funds for their Easter food basket program,” Shoenfelt said. “We are at the early stages of the planning process but have already started to see the challenges and trials nonprofits experience when planning a fundraiser. We can’t wait to see the final result and hope to have a large crowd supporting the food pantry.”