“Navigating the Unknown” Webinar: Addressing Poverty and Hunger in the Coronavirus Era

The Sullivan Foundation returns with two new episodes of its innovative webinar series, “Navigating the Unknown,” during the week of March 30-April 3, 2020. Hosted by Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement, each episode features two social entrepreneurs discussing how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their work and how we can all help guide our communities through this challenging health crisis. Participants are invited to join in on the conversation via Zoom or follow the discussion on Facebook Live.

Episode 3 focuses on the theme of poverty and hunger in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Episode 4 will explore the role social enterprises and social leaders can play in helping communities survive and emerge stronger from the crisis. Here’s a closer look at each episode:

Episode 3: 12-1 p.m. (ET), Wednesday, April 1
Poverty and Hunger in the Coronavirus Era

Josh Nadzam leads an On the Move Art Studio class. (Photo by Tricia Spaulding, Next Step Multimedia)

Josh Nadzam, On the Move Art Studio: Josh knows poverty and hunger first-hand. Raised by a single mother who worked tough jobs and terrible hours to eke out a meager living, he grew up coping with his father’s alcoholism and suicidal tendencies and the tragic death of his best friend in a car wreck. But the scholar-athlete overcame it all to win a full track and field scholarship—and the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award—at the University of Kentucky. Today, as co-founder and director of On the Move Art Studio, Josh leads free art classes for at-risk youth in underserved neighborhoods, hoping to show them a path to success through the power of their own creativity.

Related: How Josh Nadzam outran poverty and uses art to change kids’ lives

Abhinav Khanal works to help female coffee producers around the world make more money and improve the quality of their product.

Abhinav Khanal, Bean Voyage: Abhinav is co-founder and executive director of Bean Voyage, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides training and market access to smallholder women coffee producers in Costa Rica. Women own 25 percent of the world’s coffee farms and form 70 percent of the coffee supply chain workforce, yet they earn 39 percent less than their male counterparts and tend to produce lower-quality yields. Khanal and Bean Voyage works with these women to dramatically increase their income by cutting middlemen from the supply chain, improving product quality, providing e-commerce opportunities and connecting them to markets in the U.S.

Episode 4, 5-6 p.m. (ET), Friday, April 3
Social Entrepreneurship, Leadership and the Coronavirus Pandemic

photo of Reagan Pugh at the Three Circle Summit

Reagan Pugh, co-founder of Assemble, has guided initiatives on storytelling, culture and leadership development at companies like Nike, Pepsico and Kimberly Clark.

Reagan Pugh, Assemble: As co-founder of Assemble, Reagan delivers workshops and keynote speeches on personal effectiveness and leadership development around the country. Assemble designs workshops to help teams better collaborate, from strategy meetings and yearly reviews to weekend retreats or brainstorming sessions. Pugh was formerly chief storyteller for the innovation consulting firm Kalypso and guided initiatives on storytelling, culture and leadership at companies like Nike, Pepsico and Kimberly Clark.

Related: Reagan Pugh builds connections through storytelling

Dustin Betz of Founder Institute

Dustin Betz, Founder Institute: Dustin manages community and content for the Founder Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed startup accelerator. Founder Institute has helped launch more than 4,000 companies in 180-plus cities, and its portfolio companies exceed $20 billion in estimated value. Founder Institute helps pre-seed entrepreneurs and teams get traction and funding by establishing a critical support network of local startup experts that are invested in their success.

You can learn more about how to take part in the “Navigating the Unknown” webinars at our Facebook Event Page or simply join the Zoom call at https://zoom.us/j/399894174 at the appropriate time. Anyone is welcome to participate or to simply listen in!


“Navigating the Unknown”: Ajax Jackson, Tessa Zimmerman Discuss Social Innovation in the Age of the Coronavirus

Social innovators Tessa Zimmerman of ASSET Education and Ajax Jackson of Magnolia Yoga Studio will be the next guests on the Sullivan Foundation’s new live-streamed webinar series, “Navigating the Unknown.” Zimmerman and Jackson will speak with Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement, from 5-6 p.m. (ET), Friday, March 27. The webinar will be hosted on Zoom and streamed on Facebook Live.

Details for joining the call can be found on the Sullivan Foundation’s Facebook Event Page.  You can join the Zoom call at https://zoom.us/j/399894174 at the appropriate time.

The Sullivan Foundation launched the “Navigating the Unknown” series in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The series addresses the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs, innovators and nonprofits as they guide their communities and clientele through the health crisis. Each call features two social entrepreneurs or innovators from the Sullivan Foundation’s Speakers Bureau, who share how they are responding to the pandemic in their communities and through their work. They also discuss the challenges they’ve faced and the challenges they’ve overcome as social innovators and changemakers.

photo of Tess Zimmerman, founder of ASSET Education

Tessa Zimmerman, founder of ASSET Education

Tessa Zimmerman, who suffered extreme anxiety in the classroom as a youth, founded ASSET Education in 2016. ASSET equips teachers with a curriculum of concrete tools to help their students reduce stress and build resilience. Composed of three modules—Mindfulness, Positive Psychology and Positive Self-Talk—the program ensures that all students walk away by the end of the academic year with at least one new stress-reducing tool that works for them.

Ajax Jackson (pictured at top) founded Magnolia Yoga Studio as New Orleans’ first black-owned yoga studio. The studio’s mission is to support growth, healing and empowerment through the art and science of hot yoga and community. Jackson works with her clients to develop and strengthen life skills such as courage, patience and intuition through yoga.

The first webinar in the “Navigating the Unknown” series was held on Wednesday, March 25. It featured Tony Weaver, Jr., founder of Weird Enough Productions, and Jasmine Babers, founder of Love Girls Magazine.

Featured entrepreneurs and schedules for upcoming webinars are listed below. Many of the guests were scheduled to speak or lead workshops at the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat—a twice-yearly event for college students with a passion for social entrepreneurship and community service—until the event had to be canceled due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Through the “Navigating the Unknown” webinar series, college students, faculty/staff members and other members of the social enterprise sector will have the opportunity to connect with and learn from these leading social innovators. No previous affiliation with the Sullivan Foundation or its programming is required to view or participate in the call.

All webinars will be recorded and uploaded to the Sullivan Foundation’s website at www.sullivanfdn.org/webinar for later reference.

Additional dates and speakers will be announced over the next few weeks, Marshall said. The schedule thus far is as follows:

Fri, March 27, from 5-6 p.m. ET
Tessa Zimmerman of ASSET 
Ajax Jackson of Magnolia Yoga

Wed, April 1, from 12-1 p.m. ET
Josh Nadzam of On the Move Art Studio
Abhinav Khanal of Bean Voyage

Fri, April 3, from 5-6 p.m. ET
Reagan Pugh of Assemble
Dustin Betz of Founders Institute

Sullivan Foundation Webinar Series Focuses on Social Entrepreneurs Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Sullivan Foundation will host a series of interactive webinars called Navigating the Unknown beginning this week. All are welcome and encouraged to join.

Each call will feature two social entrepreneurs from the Sullivan Foundation’s Speakers Bureau, who will share how they are responding to the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic in their communities and through their work.

The first webinar is scheduled for 12-1 p.m.(ET), Wednesday, March 25. It will feature Tony Weaver, Jr., founder of Weird Enough Productions, and Jasmine Babers, founder of Love Girls Magazine.

Tony Weaver, Jr., founder of Weird Enough Productions

Named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2018, Weaver creates digital comics to improve social emotional learning, combat misrepresentation in the media and tell stories that inspire people to embrace their quirks.

Babers (pictured at top of screen) is a publishing prodigy who created Love Girls when she was 15, with a mission to “build self-esteem by providing young women leadership opportunities and a safe place to tell their stories.”

Related: Love Girls Magazine founder Jasmine Babers shines spotlight on everyday girls

Featured entrepreneurs for other upcoming webinars are listed below. Many of the webinar guests were scheduled to present or lead workshops at the Sullivan Foundation’s Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat until the event had to be canceled due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Others are past Ignite Retreat speakers and workshop leaders. Through the “Navigating the Unknown” webinar series, college students with a strong interest in social innovation and social entrepreneurship will still have the opportunity to connect with and learn from these leading social innovators.

“We will start each webinar by inviting participants into small breakout rooms to meet others from across the Sullivan network and to share their personal experiences,” said Spud Marshall, who will lead the webinars. “We’ll then close by letting participants ask questions directly to our featured speakers and learn what tips and tricks they have to share.”

The webinars will be hosted over Zoom and will be broadcast live to Facebook. All calls will be recorded and uploaded to the Sullivan Foundation’s website at www.sullivanfdn.org/webinar for later reference.

Details for joining the call can be found on the Sullivan Foundation’s Facebook Event Page or by joining the Zoom call at https://zoom.us/j/399894174 at the appropriate time.

Additional dates and speakers will be announced over the next few weeks, Marshall said. The schedule thus far is as follows:

Wed, March 25, from 12-1 p.m. ET
Tony Weaver Jr. of Weird Enough Productions 
Jasmine Babers of LOVE Girls Magazine

Fri, March 27, from 5-6 p.m. ET
Tessa Zimmerman of ASSET 
Ajax Jackson of Magnolia Yoga

Wed, April 1, from 12-1 p.m. ET
Josh Nadzam of On the Move Art Studio
Abhinav Khanal of Bean Voyage

Fri, April 3, from 5-6 p.m. ET
Reagan Pugh of Assemble
Dustin Betz of Founders Institute

Wheelchair Tennis Introduced as Clemson’s First Adaptive Sports Team

By Michael Staton, Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences

If the typical, everyday wheelchair is built for comfort, those designed for adaptive sports athletes are built for speed. They’re less bulky and the wheels slant inward. They have a lower back and maneuver like a dream. They can also be a real pain to deal with in an airport.

Adaptive sports athletes have to bring an everyday and sport chair when traveling, so the latter becomes equipment storage that the athlete pushes in front of them. This one-person, two-chair convoy has to contend with baggage claim, escalators, security and every other hassle inherent to an airport.

For Jeff Townsend, this is just another stop on the way to a wheelchair tennis match or basketball game. Jeff is a longtime adaptive sports athlete and coach who now serves as a lecturer in Sullivan Foundation partner school Clemson University’s parks, recreation and tourism management department. Seamlessly transitioning two chairs at once up and down an escalator is muscle memory for him at this point.

However, this was all new for Clemson student Marsden Miller, who is just now getting the hang of life as an adaptive sports athlete. When he and Jeff ventured down to Orlando, Florida for the National Wheelchair Tennis Collegiate Championship hosted by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Jeff was there to support his teammate, but also to share travel tips and tricks with Marsden.

Jeff’s wife, Jasmine, is also a faculty member in the department. She describes herself as the “volunteer gear schlepper,” and she never tires of the reactions she sees as she trails behind Jeff in airports. Those reactions took on a whole new meaning with Marsden beside him during the trio’s trip to Orlando.

“I’ll admit I got a little teary-eyed in the airport seeing Jeff and Marsden all decked out in Clemson gear pushing these two wheelchairs in front of me,” Jasmine said. “Marsden wants nothing more than to be a Clemson athlete traveling from match to match, and Jeff’s there giving him all these tips for getting through the airport. Meanwhile everyone we pass wants to know who these guys are, what they’re doing and where they’re going.”

this photo shows tennis wheelchair athletes Jeff Townsend and Marsden Miller of Clemson University trying to navigate an escalator with four wheelchairs

Clemson University professor Jeff Townsend (left) helps fellow wheelchair tennis athlete Marsden Miller figure out the challenge of entering and exiting an escalator with both an everyday and sport chair. (Photo by Jasmine Townsend)

Even at the time, Jasmine knew what everyone in that airport was seeing: the first student from Clemson to play wheelchair tennis in a tournament, and the faculty member that was stepping up to not only round out Clemson’s wheelchair tennis team but serve as a mentor—in more ways than one—to that athlete.

It has always been Jeff and Jasmine’s goal to start a true collegiate adaptive sports team wherever they ended up and starting small—even with a team of two—is still a start. There aren’t many collegiate adaptive sports programs across the country, but Jeff says he wants to help make Clemson one of those standout programs.

“It’s important to implement because where there are opportunities for sports, there should be opportunities for everyone to get involved,” Jeff says. “Clemson leads the way in athletics in many ways, and it could be one of those programs leading the way in collegiate adaptive sports.”

‘Just like that, we had a team’

The trip to Orlando wasn’t just special for Marsden because he was getting his first taste of tournament travel; it was special because he was heading to his first ever singles and doubles matches. Jeff and Chuck McCuen, Clemson’s director of tennis operations, had learned only three weeks beforehand that the Southern USTA would fund a Clemson team’s trip to its late-April tournament.

Collegiate wheelchair tennis teams require at least one student athlete, but the remainder of the team can be comprised of faculty members such as Jeff. The only other requirement is that athletes must have a lower limb disability, so the field is open to amputees as well as people with cerebral palsy and spina bifida.

Jeff and Marsden both have spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. Jeff wasn’t just the first wheelchair tennis athlete Marsden ever met; he was also the first person Marsden ever met who also had spina bifida.

“Marsden had been playing intramural wheelchair basketball at Clemson with me, so I asked if he wanted to start playing tennis and travel to this tournament,” Jeff says. “He said ‘sure,’ and just like that we had a team.”

Chuck, who coached 14 years with Clemson’s tennis team and 19 years at Georgia State University, stepped up to become coach for the two-person wheelchair tennis team. Ever modest, Chuck says the team probably could have done better with its selection of coaching staff, but he is literally the most qualified man for the job.

Chuck founded the first collegiate wheelchair tennis team in U.S. history at Georgia State. Despite what Chuck might say about his qualifications, Jeff and Marsden think he’ll do just fine.

“I knew we needed to practice, so we practiced every day for three weeks leading to that tournament, very often as early as 5 a.m.,” Chuck says. “These guys are no joke. They’re both serious competitors and serious athletes.”

Chuck says Jeff and Marsden were both positive and open minded despite the short amount of time they had to prepare. While Jeff brought his experience as an adaptive sports athlete and Paralympian, Marsden brought a real hunger to play and to be a part of the program.

Chuck says he and Jeff concentrated on helping Marsden learn the basics of the game, from what’s counted as in and out to how to best grip the racket and wheels simultaneously. According to Chuck, Jeff spent these first few weeks concentrating a little more on the technical aspects of the game and strategy.

In Orlando, Jeff made it to the semi-finals in his division, ultimately losing in that round. Marsden says he experienced some growing pains, but despite that he ended up winning his first singles match in the tournament. Jeff and Marsden, playing doubles, beat Michigan State in the first round match up but lost to San Diego State in the semi-final round.

“I really couldn’t believe that I was even able to do what I did in Orlando,” Marsden says. “To be able to go and win a singles and doubles match in that first trip was definitely the most memorable thing for me so far on this team.”

When Jeff and Marsden returned from the tournament, practice didn’t slow down. With the exception of some days off during the summer, Jeff and Marsden have met Chuck regularly at the indoor tennis complex for hours of practice multiple days a week.

“They both have the tools to really be great,” Chuck says. “Jeff went from a good player to, at times, an elite player implementing the strategies we had trained on. Marsden proved after only a few weeks of practice that he could hold his own against a high-level player from another school. He really improved in a short period of time.”

Getting a Clemson baseline

For faculty in the parks, recreation and tourism management department, this relationship with adaptive sports is hardly a first. Jasmine and Jeff have worked with students in the department’s recreational therapy program to introduce adaptive sports to global audiences, most notably in Thailand during summer 2018.

Jeff, Jasmine and a host of faculty and students further developed adaptive sport programs across Thailand while promoting inclusion in recreation. In addition to providing coaching skills, the program helped to shape coaches’ perspectives on people with disabilities by expanding awareness of their potential. Jasmine says the lessons learned during the program in Thailand were applicable everywhere, including Clemson’s own backyard.

this photo shows Jasmine Townsend of Clemson University addressing members of the Thai Paralympics Committee on inclusion in recreation

Jasmine Townsend (foreground, turned to her left)) addresses a classroom of physical education campus representatives and members of the Thai Paralympic Committee on inclusion in recreation in Thailand. (Photo: Clemson College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences)

“We learned that you can’t just concentrate on skill building in adaptive sports, you have to also put in the work when it comes to attitudes toward players with disabilities,” Jasmine says. “These two facets were necessary in Thailand, and they’ll also be what the Clemson campus community will need to focus on as well.”

Before starting this work toward building an inclusive environment for current and future student athletes with disabilities, Jasmine wanted to get a baseline. Jasmine, fellow faculty member Brandi Crowe and three recreational therapy graduate students conducted research over spring and summer 2019 in the department’s Adaptive Sport and Recreation Lab housed in Clemson’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences.

They surveyed 525 undergraduate and graduate students across a variety of majors and 25 faculty or staff members from various departments with the aim to understand the Clemson climate toward individuals with disabilities. The research explored attitudes about discrimination, inclusion, prospects for the future and perceptions of potential gains in life.

The survey results indicated that Clemson has a slightly negative leaning attitude toward individuals with disabilities. The lowest scores came from questions regarding the prospects respondents think individuals with disabilities should have in their lives. The respondents tended to think they should have low expectations, that they shouldn’t be hopeful about their future and that sex should not be discussed with people with disabilities.

However, Jasmine points out that Clemson respondents had higher than average scores with regards to attitudes about discrimination and potential gains. In other words, the respondents were overwhelmingly opposed to taking advantage of individuals with disabilities or treating them as if they have no feelings. Respondents also had a positive view of the gains an individual can make in wisdom, strength and determination because of their experience having a disability.

“These findings are both encouraging and discouraging at the same time, obviously,” Jasmine said. “I think this makes it clear that there is work to be done in order to improve the climate toward individuals with disabilities on Clemson’s campus.”

Jasmine shared her early findings with Lee Gill, Clemson’s chief inclusion and equity officer, and others in the Clemson’s office of inclusion and equity. According to Gill, the first step in changing attitudes toward students with disabilities is making Clemson more inviting to that population, both in a physical and emotional sense.

As with issues surrounding gender, race or sexual orientation, Gill said the only way to create lasting change is to create opportunities for all students to engage with people with disabilities. That can’t happen if those individuals aren’t on campus or have no reason to be on campus, and he sees the formation of a wheelchair tennis team as the first of many steps in the right direction for Clemson in this regard.

“Real relationships and engagement with people with disabilities are the only ways to change attitudes, and Jasmine’s findings do nothing but confirm that for me,” Gill said. “I applaud Jasmine for taking the initiative to get a team going at Clemson; it’s hard to think of a better avenue to start forging those relationships than through sports, which already do so much to positively develop young people.”

Right place, right time

Jasmine doesn’t deny that there’s a great deal of work ahead to build the sport of wheelchair tennis and then, hopefully, build a team for wheelchair basketball and various adaptive track and field events. Unfortunately, higher education institutions are often forced to recreate the wheel when it comes to introducing and growing adaptive sports programs.

The thesis of a Clemson master’s student working with Jasmine, Breida Hill, is currently exploring the organizational structures of existing intercollegiate adaptive sports programs in the U.S. Hill has interviewed program directors and coaches from established and new programs across the country; she has found that program structure, funding and staffing vary greatly from program to program.

Hill has also found that there is little consistency in how programs form, which would explain the challenge inherent to building an adaptive sports program. Jasmine and Jeff have tackled these challenges one by one, so they hope that the “Clemson way” might become the standard for other programs regionally or nationally.

this photo shows wheelchair tennis athletes in Clemson University's first adaptive sports team

Wheelchair tennis athletes Jeff Townsend and Marsden Miller are the inaugural members of Clemson University’s first adaptive sports team. (Photo by Jasmine Townsend)

Jasmine said Clemson’s wheelchair tennis team has been lucky that there is no shortage of people at Clemson who know how to assemble a team, or at least there is no shortage in motivation. All of the pieces seem to be falling into place, and she can’t help but think that this program was meant to happen in Clemson.

“Jeff and I happen to end up in the same place as the first wheelchair tennis coach in the country, and we have had the support of a very open-minded and positive dean, provost’s office, inclusion and equity office and athletics department. Everyone just wants the best for its student athletes,” Jasmine said. “Things have happened fast, and the attitude toward this team has just been infectious.”

That support has also come in the form of in-state tuition waivers for incoming, out-of-state students who will play on the wheelchair tennis team. This begins to level the playing field for any student interested in the program from across the country because the trick for this team—and for almost any other adaptive sports team across the country—is establishing a pipeline of athletes.

The adaptive sports community is tight knit, so word of Clemson’s team has already started to spread to those athletes engaged in the sport. Some have already expressed interest or committed to attend Clemson because a court, coach and place on the team are waiting for them.

However, having a team exist at all on the college level acts as “the carrot” for young adaptive sports athletes. The benefits of involvement in team sports for youth are numerous, from improved physical fitness and self-esteem to the social aspects of playing and training with teammates. Students with spina bifida or cerebral palsy often have to sit on the sidelines and watch as able-bodied athletes reap those benefits because youth adaptive sport opportunities are limited, especially in South Carolina.

Had wheelchair tennis and a team already existed at Clemson before Miller became a student, he said he certainly would have pursued it from the moment he arrived on campus. Miller works part time at Clemson’s football training complex, and he has always wanted to play sports for all the same reasons that drive the Clemson football players he sees day in and day out.

Jasmine said the success of athletes such as Marsden will motivate young athletes in middle or high school to seek out opportunities to play a sport. She refers to the problem as a “chicken and egg” situation that many higher education institutions are faced with: should it build adaptive sports programs before it has athletes or should it find athletes first?

Jasmine said the solution should be both at once, because young people and their parents won’t seek out opportunities they don’t know about. She said opportunities need to exist in communities so that students are ready when they come to Clemson.

“Clemson introducing an adaptive sports team is a great first step toward including athletes of all ability levels, but it’s bigger than that,” Jasmine said. “It doesn’t just open opportunities for adaptive sports athletes on the college level; partnering with community parks and recreation organizations and tennis clubs around the state can create a path for those young people who don’t even know the option is there in the first place.”

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the Clemson University website.

Students at West Virginia Wesleyan College Make 10,000 Meals for Rise Against Hunger

More than 130 students at Sullivan Foundation partner school West Virginia Wesleyan College recently came together to package 10,000-plus meals for Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief organization that wants to end hunger by 2030.

The event was coordinated by Wesleyan’s Center for Community Engagement. Students participating in the event included Wesleyan Service Scholars, members of Alpha Xi Delta sorority, Chi Phi and Theta Chi fraternities, and athletes from acrobatics & tumbling, women’s basketball, football, men’s and women’s golf, lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s track.

The meals are designed to provide a comprehensive array of micronutrients and include enriched rice, soy protein, dried vegetables, and 20 essential vitamins and nutrients. One in three people worldwide are adversely affected by vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Rise Against Hunger meals are provided in schools to encourage increased enrollment and attendance.  For adults in community empowerment programs, the provision of meals offsets productive time lost while attending training sessions. Meals distributed in hospitals and clinics support patients’ nutritional needs and complement their treatments.

The Rise Against Hunger event was aimed at world hunger, but Wesleyan students are taking action locally, too. Prior to Super Bowl Sunday, students from the WE LEAD Poverty Reduction team and the Buckhannon Volunteer Center worked to challenge groups on campus and in the Upshur County community to compete in a SOUP-er Bowl Sunday collection event. Groups collected canned soup and other non-perishable items to be donated to the Upshur County Parish House.

“Projects such as Rise Against Hunger and SOUP-er Bowl provide our students with the opportunity to become more knowledgeable about poverty, hunger and economic issues throughout the world,” said Jessica Vincent, director of the Center for Community Engagement. “Our students are constantly searching for ways to empower change and impact the local community and beyond.”

This article is an edited version of the original story appearing on the West Virginia Wesleyan College website.

This Furman Student Helps Locals Face the Tax Man

By Tina Underwood

Editor’s note: This story was posted prior to the federal government’s announcement that the 2019 tax filing deadline has been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sydney Tanner, a student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Furman University, looks forward to the time of year most people dread—tax season. For the third year in a row, Tanner is volunteering with Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a free tax service administered by the United Way for individuals and families who make $60,000 or less.

Her participation was required for the first two years as part of intermediate financial accounting and advanced accounting, taught by Sandy Roberson, professor of business and accounting.

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art

This year, Tanner says she’s doing it because “I enjoy giving back to the community.”

And for some clients, the service represents more than a nice gesture; it’s empowering. Tanner remembers a client who was clearly frustrated in her failed attempt to file her own tax return.

“Understandably, she showed up at the VITA site very annoyed,” Tanner said. “But by the end of the visit, she was smiling and full of energy. We were able to correct the error and let her know what was wrong, giving her the tools to prepare her own return the following year. For me, it was satisfying to see the taxpayer feel empowered to take that on.”

Many other Upstate South Carolina individuals and families have no doubt encountered similar experiences. Since Furman first began supplying VITA volunteers in 2009, 360 students have participated, donating more than 5,200 hours through 2019, Roberson said.

To become certified by the Internal Revenue Service, students must grind out scores of practice returns and complete in-class and supplemental training to pass three exams—standards of conduct, intake/interview and quality review, and the basic (or advanced) preparer exam. While taxpayers benefit from the free service, she says the students may benefit even more.

another photo of Sydney Tanner

Sydney Tanner

“I hope that in addition to the professional and discipline competencies, VITA helps prepare students for public lives as citizens, members of communities and professionals in a diverse, democratic society,” Roberson said. “The program cultivates skills of engaged citizenship and challenges them to think about and articulate their civic role as educated professionals in their community.”

Born to heal: Bradley Firchow earns Sullivan Award at Oglethorpe University

Roberson says the experience is “transformative” for students who have never directly interacted with the public outside of Furman. “I see that in their reflective writings, which can be very moving, when they relate how their view of community or themselves changes as a result of service.”

Tanner, of Wylie, Texas, will intern with Deloitte’s Multistate Tax Services group in Charlotte, North Carolina, following graduation. In the fall, she’ll begin working on her master’s degree in professional accounting at the University of Texas at Austin. But she won’t soon forget her time with VITA.

“My participation with VITA is what really opened my eyes to pursuing the field of taxation as a career path in the first place,” Tanner said.

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Furman University website.

Wofford College Makes Free Nutrition Education Resources Available Across the State

By Susan Benson, Wofford College

When elementary school students learn to make healthy eating choices at school, they will begin making those choices at home and, perhaps, influence their families to eat healthily as well. That’s the philosophy behind Boss’ Healthy Buddies, a free nutrition education resource for grades K-4 that Dr. David W. Pittman, professor of psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Wofford College, and his students are making available to all South Carolina elementary schools.

“The ultimate goal of Boss’ Healthy Buddies is teaching youngsters about nutrition,” said Samantha Baker, a senior accounting major from Beaufort, S.C. “We can educate the children to make healthier choices at school, and we can motivate them to make those healthy decisions at home as well. Boss’ Healthy Buddies brings awareness to families as well.”

Related: Sullivan Foundation offers opportunity to serve those in need in Selma, Alabama

Boss’ Healthy Buddies offers a variety of free materials, encouraging schools to teach students about nutrition and motivate them to develop healthy eating habits. The most popular resource is a nutrition curriculum for each grade. The 15- to 20-minute lessons match a South Carolina education standard so teachers easily can incorporate nutrition information into their weekly lesson plans. The nutrition lessons apply to skills ranging from reading to multiplication.

Baker and Caitlin Shealy, a senior from Columbia, S.C., majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology and anthropology, are the student leaders for Boss’ Healthy Buddies. They are spearheading efforts to put the program into K-4 programs in every elementary school in the state, sending invitation letters to all of the principals – more than 700.

Boss’ Healthy Buddies – named for Wofford’s mascot, Boss – complements Healthy Eating Decisions, a program Pittman developed that allows participating schools to enter the nutritional information for their cafeteria lunches and have a calculator identify the healthiest combination of entrée and two side items each day. “Schools are encouraged to find a means to motivate students to choose the healthiest option, such as ringing a bell for public recognition of their choice or competitions between grades,” he said.

Jesse Boyd Elementary School in Spartanburg District 7 was the first to implement both programs, Healthy Eating Decisions in 2009 and Boss’ Healthy Buddies in 2017. Pine Street Elementary School, also in District 7, and Oakland Elementary School in District 2 have used the Healthy Eating Decisions program since 2011.

Baker and Shealy said they want to continue the efforts to expand the Boss’ Healthy Buddies program throughout South Carolina. Shealy, who has been part of the program for two years, taught a lesson on nutrition to four classes and witnessed the children’s enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle. She also wants to encourage fellow Wofford students to become involved with Boss’ Healthy Buddies.

Related: Davidson College alumnus runs tech nonprofit helping families apply for SNAP benefits

Pittman has the science to back up the Healthy Eating Decision program’s effectiveness. A study of the program was published in the International Journal of Obesity. It provides evidence that positive reinforcement can increase healthy eating choices during school lunches. Another study published in the Journal of Obesity provides evidence that Boss’ Healthy Buddies is an effective nutrition education resource.

For this study, Pittman and Wofford students looked at three schools that took different approaches with their nutrition education. The first school implemented the Boss’ Healthy Buddies program; the second school lacked any nutrition education program; and the final school paid for a commercially available nutrition education program. Based on pre- and post-tests of nutrition knowledge, the school using the free Boss’ Healthy Buddies resources was comparable to the school that paid for similar resources.

Wofford students involved in the program have honed their leadership skills, Pittman added. They have contacted principals and superintendents, created age-appropriate nutrition curriculums, visited schools implementing the programs and participated in school health fairs. “Much like students who choose to start a business in entrepreneurship, this is an outlet for students who want to promote healthy eating and nutrition awareness,” Pittman said.

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Wofford College website.


Elon Musk’s Brother Wants to Build “Super Farm” to Address Food Insecurity

While Elon Musk designs futuristic cars and rocket ships in anticipation of “The Jetsons” age, his brother Kimbal has his feet planted more firmly on the ground—he wants to build a mission-driven “super farm” that could solve the problem of food insecurity worldwide.

Along with Tobias Peggs, Kimbal Musk founded Square Roots, an urban indoor farming company, in Brooklyn in 2016. Its mission is to supply fresh local produce to cities around the world and train a new generation of agricultural leaders. Musk was named the Global Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the World Economic Forum in 2017.

Square Roots specializes in vertical farming, a method in which crops are grown in stacked layers, often without soil and always without pesticides. The social enterprise has farm campuses in Brooklyn and Grand Rapids, Mich. According to CNN, the company has grown more than 120 varieties of crops, such as greens, vegetables and strawberries. Its range of farming techniques include hydroponics (using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent), aquaponics (cultivating plants in water) and aeroponics (growing plants in the air). The crops are grown inside modules—actually reclaimed shipping containers—around the clock, regardless of the weather outside.

this is a photo of vertical farming at Square Roots, founded by Kimbal Musk

Vertical farming is a method in which crops are grown in stacked layers, often without soil and always without pesticides.

The Square Roots “super farm,” scheduled to open in less than three months, will have 25 climate-controlled modules, cold storage, biosecurity infrastructure and other necessities for vertical farming.

As CNBC reported last fall, the modules, which have their own lighting and irrigation systems, can be set up in a grocery store’s parking lot or inside a warehouse or industrial building, allowing foods to be grown in a controlled setting almost anywhere, including food deserts with limited access to fresh vegetables and fruits.

Peggs also told CNBC that these regulated microclimates and techniques result in products with better flavor and higher yield compared to those grown on traditional farms, which are subject to the vagaries of weather, soil acidity and pests.

As part of its mission, Square Roots brings on a new cohort of “next-gen” farmers each year and trains them to become leaders in urban farming.

this photo shows Tobias Peggs, who cofounded Square Roots with Kimbal Musk

Tobias Peggs cofounded Square Roots with Kimbal Musk.

“I’m drawn to urban agriculture because I want to learn how to modernize traditional farming methods for the urban setting,” said Allison Chan, a member of the 2019-20 cohort. “Growing food locally promotes resilience amongst a community and puts a face to what’s showing up on their plates. Food is so prevalent in our lives, yet the gap between food and consumers has grown larger than ever. I want to reconnect people with their food by bringing a face to the story behind their food.”

Another member of this year’s cohort, Jerry Garcia, said urban farming “gives city dwellers a chance to connect with food in a space that they typically would not be able to. I believe that providing local food to those who live in cities is an essential part of inspiring future farmers to feel empowered in their backyards.”

CNN reports that rapid climate change will likely threaten existing food supplies and hurt traditional farmers around the world, but farmers using vertical methods won’t be affected.

In addition to his position as executive chairman of Square Roots, Musk sits on the board of his more famous brother’s companies, SpaceX and Tesla. As Musk noted to CNBC, “I’m focused on bringing real food to everyone [on earth], but the farming technology we are building at Square Roots can and will be used on Mars.”

this photo shows a next-gen farmer at Square Roots

Katie LaRue is a member of the 2019-20 cohort of next-gen farmers at Square Roots.

Sullivan Foundation Cancels Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat and Faculty/Staff Summit

Due to concerns about the coronavirus, the Sullivan Foundation has canceled the Spring 2020 Ignite Retreat and the Faculty/Staff Summit scheduled for March 27-29.

“At the Sullivan Foundation, we prioritize the health and safety of our students and faculty members above all else,” said Sullivan Foundation President Steve McDavid. “Our staff and several board members have met several times to discuss our worst-case scenario plans. In light of recent events and the uncertainty of the coronavirus, my board is advising me to suspend all student and faculty programming for the spring semester.”

“It is with great sadness that we cancel these events, but all of us at the Sullivan Foundation feel it is best to protect our students and faculty first,” McDavid added. “We will be refunding all payments made to attend the Retreat and Summit.”

The Fall 2020 Ignite Retreat is scheduled for October 16-18 in Asheville, N.C. Click here to learn more.

University of Virginia Nursing Students Hone Their Skills on the Streets

It’s a Sunday evening, about suppertime, and the patient— a 71-year-old man with type 1 diabetes—lolls in and out of consciousness deep in the folds of an overstuffed armchair, a NASCAR race on TV and the smells of the dinner, not yet served, mixing with the pulpy heat of the woodstove.

University of Virginia nursing student Ryan Thomas, who moments before was riding shotgun in an ambulance, a map sprawled across his lap, expertly snaps on a pair of blue rubber gloves and addresses the patient whose family dialed 9-1-1 when he became unresponsive.

“Carl?” [not his real name] Thomas says gently, touching the man’s arm, “Do you know what year it is?”

No response.

CARL,” Thomas booms, now twice as loud. “CAN YOU TELL ME YOUR LAST NAME?”

On this evening, the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad team—a group that includes Thomas, Haydon Pitchford, Taylor Vest, David Clarke and Kassie Sadler—is responsible for covering the roughly 260 square miles that make up this portion of the county. WARS, as it’s known, is one of a dwindling number of all-volunteer rescue squads in the area. With eight trucks, two kayaks, and bags of mobile medical supplies, they respond to calls across the socio-economic and situational spectrum: from the paved cul-de-sacs in high-end subdivisions to pitted-out dirt roads and modest trailers and cabins deep in the Blue Ridge foothills.

Their call tonight is like a well-choreographed dance; they pivot easily around the patient and one another with practiced grace. This is the Sunday night crew, on each week from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next morning, and for one 24-hour shift every six weeks.

To Thomas, 22, an advanced EMT, it’s the best part of nursing.

Ryan Thomas, a UVA fourth-year nursing student, volunteers with the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad team. (Photo by Christine Phelan Kueter, UVA School of Nursing)

“Yes, I wanted to give back to my community in a genuine, unique way, and yes, I want to hone my skills,” says Thomas, of Lovettsville, who first volunteered for his hometown rescue squad at age 16. “But I’m also here for the fun, even though it’s not strictly fun: the thrills, the camaraderie of the team, and to have this second family.”

“Look for the helpers” in tough situations, Mister Rogers advised. But if nursing schools are filled to the brim with those wishing to do good, some—including students Thomas, Sam Anderson, Aliana Kyle, Raniyah Majied and Alice Thomson, along with alumnus Andrew Baxter, Charlottesville’s fire chief, along with many, many others—embrace the role even more deeply. They are emergency responders, every inch of them a helper.

Related: Rollins College remembers 2001 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Mister Rogers

Seeing Beyond the Hospital
For some, emergency response work made visible a path to nursing school at the University of Virginia, a Sullivan Foundation partner school. That was true for Alice Thomson who, even as she changed academic pursuits—first English, then public policy, then government relations—kept the constant of volunteering as an emergency responder, which ultimately led her to nursing.

“The best way I can describe nursing,” says Thomson, now in her first year of UVA’s clinical nurse leader master’s program, “is that, once I was doing it, I realized it was a lifelong dream I never knew I had.”

She’s also found the emergency work deeply influences her nursing, particularly in her current role in UVA’s Emergency Department, where so much depends on a broad understanding of a patient’s situation—details emergency responders often see and describe to providers at the ambulance/hospital door hand-off.

“It’s shown me how important it is to know what that patient’s life is like when they dial 9-1-1,” says Thomson, who volunteers each Wednesday as fire captain at Seminole Fire and Rescue in Charlottesville. “The more information you have from the very beginning, the more holistic your picture is going to be for what your patient really needs.”

That holistic vantage is one that Chief Baxter, who earned his B.S. in nursing from UVA in 1994, sees and appreciates, too. Baxter came to nursing after accepting a job with UVA Hospital’s weight and lift team in 1990, observing emergency responders on the Pegasus helicopter and “quickly realizing, in terms of translating my interests into education and a career, that the nursing profession was the best way to do that.”

During nursing school, Baxter volunteered with Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad, and appreciated how its practical, boots-on-the-ground work strengthened his experience, critical thinking and leadership skills, while profoundly deepening his understanding of the community. It was a view, he recalls, of the social determinants of health that work in the hospital simply didn’t offer.

As an emergency responder, “You’re in people’s homes, you’re in their lives at times when they’re incredibly vulnerable, and it’s an incredibly intimate experience,” he explains. “You see people in a way that’s pretty rare. You could probably ask them those same questions in a primary care setting, but to be in their home, or to interact with them if they’re homeless—well, it’s a whole different level of understanding.”

“There’s a lot of things that you see that a lot of people will never see in their life,” Thomas adds, “and it’s a privilege to be part of that experience.”

Learning Kindness
For some, emergency response work provides a litmus test. Raniyah Majied took EMT classes at her Salem high school to see whether she could stomach a career in health care, in the process transitioning from taking classes to “make a grade” to “really wanting to understand the reasons why we do what we do” during emergency calls.

In addition to the technical, communication and critical thinking skills she gleaned from the volunteer work, Majied also found great meaning in offering small kindnesses, especially for isolated patients who, especially in older age, had few relationships. Even as she begins clinical rotations this spring, it’s already developed in her a love of geriatric nursing.

Nursing student and emergency response volunteer Raniyah Majied says working with isolated, elderly patients on call helped her realize her passion for geriatric nursing. (Photo by Christine Phelan Kueter, UVA School of Nursing)

“Sometimes they’d say, ‘I called my daughter, but she didn’t answer,’ or, ‘I haven’t seen my kids in a really long time,’ or, ‘My spouse passed away,’” Majied says. “As a nurse, I’ll get a lot of opportunities to have these connections with people. I’m excited to be a nurse and have way more time with them than I do as an EMT.”

Related: Scotland’s Parliament aims to make sanitary products free for all women

Given their exposure to humanity across the spectrum, emergency responders’ situational agility, in turn, strengthens their confidence, poise and kindness.

“You’re going into people’s homes where they’re sick, and lying in bed,” second-year nursing student Sam Anderson explains. “So a lot of it is using very comfortable language with patients, being very polite and courteous, and giving them autonomy, or as much autonomy as possible, with the decision about how to proceed forward.”

That kindness and calm, Baxter says, fosters trust and are traits people remember.

“People don’t write and tell me, ‘Boy, your fire crews did a great job deploying that inch and three-quarters attack line on that house fire,’” he laughs. “They write and say, ‘I can’t believe the care that your crew took so I could go back in the house and get my grandmother’s wedding dress.’ And that’s just phenomenal.”

Bringing it Back to the Classroom
Emergency responders aren’t just a boon in disaster. These student volunteers are influential in the nursing classroom, too, where nursing professor Bethany Coyne says they enrich and broaden discussions of topics that lie beyond skills-based competencies, like the interconnectedness of education and health, ethics case studies, and the social determinants of health.

They also model confidence and calm, traits that are noted assets at the bedside and in the classroom. Their peers, Coyne says, take note—and heart—at their ability to think critically.

“They have all these experiences that are beyond the hospital walls,” Coyne says, “and they’ve seen patients and clients outside of the inpatient setting, and that perspective is really valuable.”

Thomson agrees that emergency work has strengthened her nurse’s confidence.

“You can have imposter syndrome when you walk into a patient’s room,” she says. Being a firefighter “has really given me a sense of confidence that I translate into patient care. If you can think on your feet and you can do something with nothing, you’re on your way to being a great nurse.”

Building Confidence
Perhaps most of all, emergency responders do what they do to give back. Aliana Kyle, who grew up in Warrenton, became an EMT as a high school junior, driven by an invisible but palpable sense of purpose and vision. These days, her weekly volunteer work with the Seminole Fire Station on the northern side of Charlottesville—while challenging—has scratched an itch she felt as an EMT to learn firefighting and encouraged her to develop the kind of mental and physical problem-solving skills she says she couldn’t necessarily get from a classroom, in a lab, or by reading a book.

Currently in training, Kyle has spent the last year learning the ropes: how to suit up in more than 40 pounds of gear in less than two minutes, how to properly flow water lines and hoses, how to queue engines and “throw” ladders, even how to use a chainsaw while perched on a roof. It’s exciting, exhilarating work, she says, and part of “doing hard things to achieve personal growth.”

Related: Social enterprise trains blind women to detect early signs of cancer by touch

And grow and learn, they do. Thomas, now an emergency responder for a half-dozen years, says emergency work has helped him understand the importance of resilience and well-being, particularly as he deals with difficult calls. Coming into contact with a range of human conditions, Thomas says, both challenges and strengthens his nursing—a field he says he wouldn’t have found without being an emergency responder first.

That he’s created a tightknit second family with his Sunday night crew is a powerful motivator to keep volunteering, too, reinforcing as it does the value of teamwork, friendship and support.

“I’m definitely more confident because I do this,” says Thomas, who graduates this spring and has plans to remain in Charlottesville, continuing his volunteer work with WARS. “With my team, I know we can together really help those who need it.”

That includes people like Carl, who, from his living room chair, received two bags of intravenous fluids from Thomas and Pitchford before groggily coming to, blinking open his eyes, and beginning to pick at a plate of peanut butter crackers and glass of orange juice from his mother that would keep his blood sugar stable and in the safe zone.

He even gets the team to chuckle when Thomas—to ensure that he’s fully functioning and doesn’t need a trip by ambulance to the emergency room—asks him who the president of the United States is.

“Somebody who’s about to find himself impeached,” drawls Carl, a half smile on his face, to which Thomas replies, “I think someone’s feeling better.”

This story was edited slightly from the original article appearing on the University of Virginia website.