Student-Philanthropists Pay It Forward in Marion

By Ben Lewis
Outreach and Engagement Communications

Students are helping to change lives through the Pay It Forward Marion (PIFM) program, which promotes civic engagement in English courses and works with the local community through service and philanthropy.

Faculty and students stand beside sign for Marion Shelter Program

"Watching students become truly engaged with community organizations and wanting to give back, and observing how invested they become in the process of philanthropy, has been very exciting," said Stuart Lishan, associate professor of English and PIFM's lead investigator. "Students become passionate about writing in large part because, in a program like this, they see that it has consequences."

Beginning writers in PIFM examine community needs and develop events to increase available funds. Their findings and funds are passed along to intermediate writing students who research and volunteer at local non-profit organizations, respond to the identified community needs, promote the PIFM project, and collect RFPs.

Students in advanced classes receive these materials, analyze proposals, engage in more in-depth research at the non-profits seeking funds, and decide how to distribute the funds. Over a two-year period, students will allocate more than $10,000 to local organizations.

A Pay It Forward Marion class

"The Pay It Forward Marion program has been a wonderful addition to our community," said Pam Stone, executive director of the United Way of Marion County – the program's community partner. "Of course the obvious benefit may be the money awarded to some very worthy programs; however I believe that the experience of researching, writing about and bestowing those awards creates something even more vital – a connection to their community and the condition of others."

PIFM received an Engagement Impact Grant in 2012 from the Office of Outreach and Engagement to help it grow. In 2013-14 there will be six PIFM classes with approximately 125 students (up from four classes with about 85 students the year before). "So more students are getting a taste of what student-centered philanthropy is like. That is, significantly more students are participating in and giving back to the community," Lishan said.

Students at a fund raiser

Stone said the program opens the eyes of many students.

"It teaches students that they do not live in a vacuum," she said. "It demonstrates that a person or small group of people can indeed affect adverse conditions. As a United Way director, I can think of nothing more important than to build a corps of future volunteers, advocates and donors."

Amy Tibbals, who teaches many of the PIFM English classes and is the program's co-investigator, said that the real-world experience students get leaves a considerable impression.

"We have found the learning that students do in this program impacts them in a deeply significant way, so that what they take away from the class lasts much longer than is typical in a semester-long course," she said.

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