Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott


Our group consisted of three members (Ryan, Celia, and myself). The purpose of our group project was to help out the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) organize their fundraising dinner.

The East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) has provided services to refugees and their families in the East Central Illinois area for 32 years. In the past year alone, they have served over 2,100 clients! Their services include resettlement, translation, adjustment, citizenship,and a children's tutoring program. 

Although they are supported by small federal, state and local grants, the Center depends heavily on this annual fundraiser. As a group, we worked diligently to market the event and seek sponsors.We created the flyer pictured below and distributed it to local businesses while asking for any sponsorship they could offer. Even though it was really tough to find sponsors, we still tried to spread the word about the event as much as possible We did this by sending out emails to our current and past professors, leaving the flyers at the local businesses we visited and also by asking some departments to include the flyer in their weekly newsletter. 

On the day of the event, Saturday, May 3rd, Celia and I attended the event and helped out in any way possible. However, there wasn’t much help needed that day since all the tables were set and people were able to serve the food themselves. Additionally, there were assigned people who were collecting tickets. Our presence, however, was much appreciated by the Refugee Center.

(Maritza Guzman)

So what? 

Now that we’ve heard a bit about the what, now I’d like to spend a bit of time speaking on the ramifications of our project, and on the lessons we have learned that we would like to pass on. 

I should start this section by saying that by helping the Center raise necessary funds to continue their services, we helped ensure their organization had the funds to continue their work. As Maritza discussed, the services that ECIRMAC offers are varied, and the majority of these services are completely free to the clients who visit the center. This is great, but it also means that the financial capital gained from fundraising events like the annual dinner are absolutely central to maintaining the mission of the organization. 

And this is something I want to touch on briefly as well: in this way, we learned that although an organization may identify as a “nonprofit,” that doesn’t mean they don’t need to make any profits in order to keep operating! On the contrary to tie in some of what we have been learning in our in-class discussions – all organizations need to be able to produce something worthy and desirable, whether it be a social or a physical product. 

As we have seen through our analysis of Kiva and other such groups, nonprofit organizations like ECIRMAC also need to have all the marks that other good, respected for-profit companies need to have. These include being financially transparent, being conscious of their “branding,” and image, and having reliable, stellar marketing to reach new relevant populations. 

From working on this project with Maritza and Celia, I think we have all come to see that these are indeed challenges and concerns faced by groups like the Refugee Center. We benefited from this aspect as well as from being involved with an organization that does this kind of work so well. 

Because my group members and I do want to work with multilingual and multicultural populations in the future, the experience we gained from directly working with this community was actually a nice complement to the in-class learning we’ve done on the subject. 

On a personal note, as someone who one day wants to work in the public (or nonprofit) sector, this project helped present me with a more sobering view of the industry as a whole. Put simply, I’m starting to see that working as a professional for an organization that “just helps people” or “just makes the world a better place” is no simple affair. Working to improve the world in this way requires no less innovative, responsible, or hardworking a mind than the for-profit sector demands. Whether one works for Boeing or Kiva, it’s not like the mindset of the employee must completely change

Having spent almost 4 semesters now volunteering at this particular refugee center, I have seen firsthand the positive “so what?” work this organization does with the limited resources they have. As a simple volunteer, I have been fortunate enough to have been thrown completely out of my undergraduate comfort zone, helping clients with complicated and intense issues related to immigration, housing, crime, and law. 

There are few other organizations like ECIRMAC in our community, resources that serve a vulnerable community even as they build relationships with local university students and simultaneously educate our community on issues we otherwise might never encounter. I am extremely grateful to my supervisors at the refugee center, and for my time there particularly, in working for this event and others as well. It has been an intense learning experience I will never forget (and one I plan to continue!) and one I never would have had without this curriculum.

(Ryan Kuramitsu)

Now what? 

Our group has learned a lot about planning a fundraising banquet through this experience. Through planning the donations, entertainment and advertising for the event, we gained invaluable experience in the efforts needed to plan a formal banquet of this scale. 

In order to plan this event we needed to use a great deal of organization and communication skills. Our three group members all had full schedules that were difficult to coordinate, but we made time to meet and split the work in order to reach our best individual results until we could regroup. 

One of the best things we gained from this project was the ability to prioritize. This is a skill that will be helpful to each of us as we continue to develop, and one that I know personally will come in handy next year during my first year of graduate school. 

We would like to offer some advice to future groups so that you can learn from our process. First and foremost, this is the type of event that takes time so beginning earlier in the semester is the best advice we can offer. The event was very successful and the donations for the auction were amazing, but in order to take the fundraiser to the next level we should have begun soliciting donations earlier. 

The first step in planning was to make an appointment with the coordinator of the event so that we could get as much information as possible in order to know what we needed to do. We tried our best to keep in contact with the Center, but they are understandably very busy so we took it upon ourselves to think outside the box. Since we were not given a great deal of instructions or direction, we decided to use the skills we had discussed in class to help the center in every way we could. To us this meant being innovative and thinking beyond this one time event. 

One thing we had in mind but never got to implement was to create a regular source of income for the Center. We had the idea of creating t-shirts that would not only help advertise the efforts and services of ECIRMAC, but help provide a supplemental cushion to the budget. We weren’t given an official response from the Center, but they seemed interested in the idea so whoever takes over for the following year should try to organize this. 

It was amazing to learn about and even witness all that the Center does, and we were all happy to be able to ensure that they have the resources needed to continue their charitable work. 
(Celia Zanayed) 

No comments:

Post a Comment