Letter from the president

Welcome, Sullivan Foundation supporters, to the fifth issue of Engage. I’m proud to say that more of our schools are represented in the pages of this edition than ever before. It’s a testament to the broad base of support our Foundation enjoys as well as to how widespread the impact of our network continues to be. Thank you, as always, for helping us further our mission.

This issue wouldn’t be what it is without the tremendous help we’ve had from two new staff members. Those of you that have been in touch with us recently have likely made contact with our new administrator, Gabby Mooney, or our new alumni coordinator Meridith Wulff. Their work so far has been fantastic and we’re very happy to have them on board.

Our staff isn’t the only thing changing. Within the next year, we plan to expand on the success of Engage with some new media offerings and to extend the reach of our programming with our new faculty summit weekend. This new program will acquaint faculty at Sullivan schools with the ever-changing world of social entrepreneurship and equip them to empower the students they mentor. Look to page 14 for a preview.

Hearing these stories as we prepare each issue of the magazine inspires us to keep finding new ways to elevate service on our campuses. We hope that, by sharing those stories with all of you, we can pass that inspiration on and use it to fuel even more positive change. Thanks for being part of that exciting process, and thanks for taking the time to check in with us.


Stephan Land McDavid
President, Sullivan Foundation

A plan for the future

Shenandoah University professor looks to answer looming questions on climate change

Giles Jackson

When it comes to global issues like climate change, it makes sense for the globe itself—or at least a part of it—to become a living laboratory. Shenandoah University business professor Giles Jackson has done just that with his Bidoup Field School launched earlier this year at Bidoup Nui Ba National Park (BDNP), a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve located in the central highlands of Vietnam. The program is aimed at increasing the understanding of endangered tropical environments threatened by climate change.

Jackson is also coordinating directly with the Sullivan Foundation, using Foundation grants to expand his knowledge in the area of environmental management of international tourism development at Harvard University. He’ll also be producing a case study about the field school for Sullivan so that students of social entrepreneurship may benefit from the lessons learned.

The program empowers teams of students, under the direction of four Columbia University professors and their counterparts around the world, to explore ecological responses to past and present climate change and seek answers to questions with far-reaching global implications, such as:

    • How will climate change impact seasonal temperature or rainfall patterns, and forest health and integrity?
    • What will be the effects of rising competition among species for light, water, or nutrients?
    • How will biodiversity be impacted and what will the consequences of biodiversity loss be?
    • What will such changes mean for the local indigenous populations who depend upon these ecosystems for their survival?
    • How does one build science-based policies to mitigate or adapt to these environmental changes?

Brendan Buckley, Ph.D., co-founder of the Bidoup Field School, began a program of climate research in the region several years ago, with support from the National Science Foundation.

“There is so much that we don’t currently know about these endangered environments and here we had a natural laboratory to study,” says Buckley. “Bringing in researchers and students, both graduate and undergraduate, to collect and analyze as much data as humanly possible became our driving force. Many are likely to develop into full time researchers who may wish to continue research in the park, thus ensuring the future of this vital research program.”

Jackson reached out to Buckley last fall while he and his Shenandoah students were conducting research for a nascent science-ecotourism project in the West Indies.

“We hit it off, and he invited me to join the scientists for the inaugural event, which I attended thanks to support from Shenandoah University,” says Jackson. “He needed someone to manage the business side, so he could focus on the science. Also, he wanted to explore how we might leverage tourism to sustain the science program — generating funds to purchase field and lab equipment, subsidize Vietnamese students, offset operational expenses and save for a dedicated field school facility.”

Jackson built the field school website and set up a secure payments system during the summer of 2015.

A tourism component has already been built into the January 2016 field school program. After completing field and laboratory work, students will pay a visit to K’Ho Coffee, a socially responsible coffee growing cooperative composed of dozens of indigenous ‘K’ho’ families living at the foot of Lang Biang Mountain, as well as Dabla Village, which has revived ancient weaving traditions with the help of the Japanese government.

Bidoup Nui Ba National Park in Vietnam

“Done right, tourism can be a powerful vehicle for fostering international understanding and alleviating poverty,” says Jackson.

Future plans include a multi-day trekking trail system to connect BDNP with neighboring national parks, Chu Yang Sin to the north and Phuoc Binh to the south, expanding the field school in both directions.

“We lost 52% of the global wildlife population between 1970 and 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund,” says Jackson. “Everything I’m hearing is telling me that these are not problems that may or may not happen sometime in the future. They’re happening right now, which is why we need more initiatives like the Bidoup Field School to figure out what’s going on and how we might best plan for the future.”

This story was adapted from a story originally appearing on the website of Shenandoah University. For the original piece, visit su.edu/blog.

Sullivan Flashback: Bishop Will Willimon

Bishop and Professor Will Willimon boasts some impressive stats. That he’s written 60 books is amazing on its own. That he has managed, at the same time, to pastor seven United Methodist congregations, serve on the faculty at Duke University for a total of 23 years, and preside as Bishop of Northern Alabama for the better part of a decade is astounding.

Following a career in the church that started in 1971, Willimon has been enjoying retirement since 2012 (a “retirement” that still involves a faculty position at Duke, naturally). Looking back at that career, it’s no surprise that, as a young student graduating from Wofford College in 1968, he was a Sullivan Award recipient. His record of reaching out to others through his intellect and pastoral skill runs deep.

A young Will Willimon poses for a photo

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Willimon’s early exposure to the church was at Buncombe Street United Methodist. Shortly after his college career at Wofford, he married his wife, Patsy, before moving on to Yale Divinity School for his master’s degree and Emory for his doctorate. Will and Patsy went on to have two children.

Willimon also went on to become one of the most influential preachers and religious writers in America. Among his extensive catalog are inspirational books for Christians, instructional books for clergy members … even novels. He was even identified as one of the “twelve most effective preachers in the English-speaking world” in a 1996 survey by Baylor University.

Through his direct ministry as well as his writing and preaching, Willimon has always stayed focused on one primary goal — and the impact it has had on generations of students, parishioners, and readers is hard to understate. That goal, as articulated by his former student Michael Turner in the book A Peculiar Prophet, is this: “First and foremost Willimon is a pastoral theologian whose primary message is that the God revealed in Jesus matters for everything in life.”

Willimon’s newest novel, “I’m Not From Here,” was released in November 2015. It’s the second he’s published since stepping down as bishop. If past performance is any indicator, he’s probably in for a busy retirement.

Planting the seeds

Ferrum College alum realizes a childhood dream; helps others do the same

When Bernice Cobbs was a young girl growing up in the rural South, she never saw going to college as a realistic dream. In her community, just graduating high school was a major accomplishment. Until integration came in the fifth grade, she couldn’t even expect to get the same quality grade school education her white peers expected.

“The white students, more so than the black students, would talk about going to college,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to teach school. The reality was I could not see myself going to college because no one in my family had gone. I simply understood that obtaining a college degree was my ticket to becoming a teacher. Fearful of the laughter, I held the dream close for many years.”

In fact, Cobbs married her husband, Hildred, and gave birth to her two children, Bradley and Kimberly, before deciding to pursue her dream. The choice wasn’t easy – the commitment of time and money were difficult to come by while raising a family. Still, with encouragement from her husband, she earned an associate’s degree from Virginia Western Community College.

With that first obstacle overcome, the dream that had seemed out of reach suddenly became attainable. Cobbs graduated from Ferrum College in 1998 with honors and an Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Cobbs had grown from a girl who feared being laughed at for her ambition into a woman whose horizons were boundless. She went on to earn master’s degrees from the University of Virginia and Radford University and, finally, a doctorate in educational leadership from Virginia Tech.

For Cobbs, equipping herself to lift up the people around her was as important as the degrees themselves. She has won numerous teaching awards, worked as principal at three schools, and served on many school and community boards.

“My community and educational involvements are certainly important to me,” she says. “However, my life’s mission lies with serving the underprivileged and committing to the welfare of women, children, families, and the extended community whom I come in contact with on a daily basis.”

Because education changed her life and opened a world of possibility to her that she couldn’t have dreamed of as a child, Cobbs strives to provide the same opportunities for others — especially those facing challenges similar to those she faced herself.

“I believe that an education is the pathway out of poverty,” she says. “For this reason, I often volunteer my time with women and young adults who are trying to further their education. This might include helping to study to pass a class exam or a national certification exam, giving advice on the ‘what next,’ gathering resources for their classes, helping to apply for scholarships, and sharing my knowledge.”

It’s a pathway that can change the course of generations to come. Cobbs’ own children are both college graduates — Bradley from Carson-Newman College and Kimberly from Virginia Commonwealth University.

For Cobbs, the benefits of education far outweigh the costs, even when those costs are high. It’s that knowledge, more than any award or degree she might earn, that continues to drive her to work toward the ideals of service embodied by Ferrum College and the Sullivan Foundation. She sums it up, succinctly, in one deeply held belief:

“My belief is that, in order for the American Dream to be achievable for all, individuals like me must plant the seeds of hope in those less fortunate so the impossible becomes possible.”

Past, present, future

Sullivan Foundation events continue to grow, evolve

Ignite participants gather for an intimate
talk by social entrepreneur Tom D’Eri

Through its summer programs, special events, and retreat weekends, The Sullivan Foundation has been promoting service and social entrepreneurship beyond its awards and scholarships for a long time. It’s easy to make the case that 2015 was the Foundation’s best year ever, and 2016 promises to be even better.

The most recent Ignite Retreat for social entrepreneurship, held in October, drew students from 22 universities across the Sullivan network. Held in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the retreat was the largest to date, with nearly 100 participants exploring ways to create positive change in the communities around them.

With piles of cardboard, post-it notes, and markers strewn throughout the conference center, participants bounced between workshops offered by the facilitators. Topics ranged from unlocking creative solutions when brainstorming to networking and pitching social venture ideas.

Friends and alumni of the Foundation gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina on the evening of October 1, 2015, to share some social time and forge new connections. The next alumni reception, to be held in Alexandria, Virginia, will take place on April 14, 2016

Saturday evening concluded with a special talk from Tom D’Eri, founder of Rising Tide Carwash, a social venture that provides meaningful employment to individuals with autism. D’Eri’s talk served as an inspirational jumping-off point for Sunday’s Prototype Crowdfunding Competition. Students pitched projects they had worked on throughout the weekend in hopes of winning a cash prize to help make their ideas realities.

“The greatest thing I walked away with from the Ignite Retreat was realizing that if I want to make a change, don’t wait until after graduation, after next year, or even tomorrow,” says participant Qadira Muhammad. “I need to begin right now!”

Two more Ignite Retreats will take place in 2016. This year, however, will feature a new addition to the lineup that promises to expand the scope of the Foundation’s campus impact. The spring retreat — scheduled for April 8-10 in Raleigh, N.C. — will include the first-ever Sullivan Foundation Faculty and Campus Leadership Summit.

The Sullivan Summit is designed to promote deeper understanding of the social innovation and entrepreneurship community among faculty and campus leaders across the Sullivan network. Through social events designed to bring together change makers of all stripes and a full slate of workshops and panels, the new event will inspire fresh thinking and expose participants to tools that can be applied on their campuses and in their classrooms.

The summit is designed to allow participants to share best practices, create a new peer-learning community, and get feedback that can accelerate change when they return home. More information is available on the events page at sullivanfdn.org.

Ignite participants gather for a group photo

A roof overhead

Three decades on, University of the Cumberlands housing program keeps on building

One of the homes built for the Nichols and Fields families by Mountain Outreach in 2015, in its finished form

In the summer of 1982, friends David Emmert and Robert Day, students at what was then called Cumberland College (now the University of the Cumberlands), went for a drive in the mountains around Williamsburg, Kentucky.

One of the young men was a local while his friend came from elsewhere and had never seen the kind of poverty that surrounded his school. Housing was ramshackle, often without water or electricity, and insufficient to protect residents from the elements. The pair responded by taking it upon themselves, despite having no knowledge of construction, to do their small part by performing renovations and building new homes for some of the people in the community.

What Emmert and Day lacked in building knowledge, they made up for with persuasive skill, bringing on student volunteers and convincing local businesses to chip in time, talent, and money to make their idea a reality.

That idea led to the construction of nine new houses by the time the friends graduated two years later in 1984. It has long since turned into an institution, having completed 147 new homes and renovated hundreds more.

Mountain Outreach, as the project has come to be known, is now a non-profit service organization operated by the University of the Cumberlands. Over the years, the houses built by the organization have become higher quality and community involvement has increased, but the spirit has stayed largely the same. Anyone, regardless of skill, can volunteer.

Volunteers and professionals come together to build high-quality, energy-efficient homes for families in need

This year, two houses — for the Nichols and Fields families — were completed. For people in difficult circumstances, the assistance the program provides can be life-changing.

Tammy Fields, a mother of three and employee of a local hospital, was trying to get by in a small trailer when she learned that her application to Mountain Outreach had been chosen.

“I just can’t express how much this means to me, and the peace of mind I have knowing this belongs to my children,” she says. “My girls are so excited, and I would love to give back and work with Mountain Outreach in the future and possibly help another family like mine.”

Her daughter Kenzie agrees.

“My mom is pretty amazing,” she says. “She really does a lot for us and even though we might not always thank her like we should, we do appreciate all she does. Mom puts her needs aside all the time for me and my sisters. We are all so excited about the house. My mom works so hard and she deserves this.”

And Mountain Outreach doesn’t just build homes and forget the families inside them. These days, the houses are built with their future in mind.

“These homes are very efficient homes,” says Marc Hensley, the program’s director. “They have high-efficiency heating and air systems and are well insulated. It is great to give these families homes but we have to make sure they can also pay the bills and maintain their homes. I hope everyone remembers that by the end of the day, Mountain Outreach isn’t just about the buildings we build — it’s about the loving homes we create.”

With more than three decades of serving the community already in the books, Mountain Outreach isn’t slowing down a bit— not as long as there’s a single head around without a sturdy roof above.

Good food guru

Warren Wilson College alum starts a business and a movement in Florida

Within the north Florida gardening community, it would be difficult to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Nathan Ballentine — though they might know him by a different name. Ballentine, a native of Tallahassee, prefers the handle “Man in Overalls,” and he’s nearly always dressed to match his moniker.

A gardener since the age of eight, Ballentine has a passion for every aspect of food and enjoys sharing his expertise with others.

“I love food. I love growing, smelling, giving, cooking, tasting, sharing, and eating food,” he says. “And I live under the impression that other folks at least like food too. It’s pretty universal.”

Ballentine graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2008, where he received a Sullivan Award. Everything seemed to be lining up nicely until the Great Recession took hold of the American economy just as he was primed to join the workforce. Bleak employment prospects weren’t enough to discourage Ballentine — in fact, they awakened his entrepreneurial spirit.

Nathan Ballentine with volunteers at the
Dunn Street Youth Farm, the main initiative
of the iGrow Whatever You Like urban
agriculture youth program in Tallahassee

In 2009, Ballentine launched Tallahassee Food Gardens, a business aimed at helping people start their own gardens through several interrelated services. He builds gardens, consults with would-be gardeners, offers workshops, and even sells high-quality compost. As in any business, turning a profit is essential but Ballentine, a disciple of the Good Food movement, maintains that Tallahassee Food Gardens has a higher purpose.

“I want Tallahassee to be able to feed itself,” he says. “I want everyone in town to end their days nutritionally satiated without worry about their ability to eat in the days and weeks to come. This is more than money can buy.”

His early success with Tallahassee Food Gardens and the recognition it earned him meant that he soon became even more deeply entrenched in Tallahassee’s food culture than he could have anticipated. In 2010, Ballentine joined with other area food leaders to found the Tallahassee Food Network, a regional coalition that works to grow community-based good food systems.

Through Tallahassee Food Network, Ballentine has managed to produce some very tangible results. The iGrow Whatever You Like program, the network’s youth empowerment and urban agriculture program, started in 2012. In partnership with the Florida Department of Agriculture, Ballentine authored a school gardening guide and started the Fresh for Florida Kids Food Garden, where kids learn about healthy diets and the benefits of home gardening.

The impact Ballentine has made on his community has not gone unrecognized. He received Warren Wilson’s College Alumni Distinguished Community Service Award in October 2013 and was named Volunteer of the Year by Tallahassee’s largest newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat.

Ballentine spent 16 months in 2014 and 2015 travelling the world with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, acting as a Tallahassee Food Network ambassador and learning from other cities’ efforts to enhance community-based food gardening. His travels even took him to Sligo, Ireland — one of Tallahassee’s sister cities.

Upon his recent return to the states, Ballentine relocated his base of operations to nearby Jacksonville, but his work with Tallahassee Food Network continues and he makes monthly trips back home to ensure the progress made there so far will continue.

Ballentine is fond of saying that food brings people together. By his count, more than 200 organization-to-organization partnerships related to the Good Food movement have been forged since he started in 2009. With his continued work, north Florida should be a very tight-knit — and healthy — place to live.

Filling a void

Alice Lloyd College takes on hunger in Appalachian Kentucky

Participants in Alice Lloyd College’s Power Up with Nutrition program pack lunches for local students

In Knott County, Kentucky, an estimated 80 percent of public school students are low-income and as many as 1,000 are actually homeless. The Knott County School District provides a free breakfast and lunch to students on school days but many still go hungry. Teachers often see students taking home their Friday lunches just to ensure they have something to eat over the weekend.

Knott County is also home to the Sullivan Foundation’s own Alice Lloyd College — a college founded to provide an affordable and excellent education to the students of Appalachia and dedicated to serving the people of the region.

When Associate Professor of Business Denise Jacobs learned of the dilemma facing so many students in her community, she felt that Alice Lloyd had an obligation to make whatever difference in the community they could.

Jacobs’ realization led to the building of a team of faculty and students at the college and the birth of the Power Up with Nutrition program. The program aims to develop a system to provide bags of nutritious food to students identified as homeless or in need at the end of every week. The program also aims to instill a sense of duty to serve others in the Alice Lloyd students who volunteer.

“It’s absolutely heart-breaking to me that young kids were going hungry,” says Sarah Woolridge, a student involved in the program. “I think it would be awesome to get the whole community involved and really help make a difference.”

The pilot program began in August 2014, with Alice Lloyd students hand-packing one-gallon bags with a variety of proteins, fruits, and grains and delivering them to Jones Fork Elementary, the county’s smallest school. Each student in need receives a bag on Friday, and additional bags are sent before extended holidays.

Since its inception, a half dozen campus groups and numerous individuals at Alice Lloyd College have joined Power Up with Nutrition. They hope to expand to serve more schools as funding becomes available, with sights already set on Beaver Elementary, the school that serves residents in the college’s immediate community.

Growing their own program is only half the mission, however. Power Up with Nutrition also plans to continue refining and perfecting the model so that it can be easily adapted by other institutions. Already, one local church and the county chapter of GEAR UP (a U.S. Department of Education program to help low-income students get to college) have adopted schools and started their own programs.

Jacobs has been pleased with the progress made so far. Still, her sights are set primarily on what still needs to be done.

“The students and I are very excited about this opportunity to help children in our community,” she says. “It’s a humbling experience to hear how appreciative these local students are to receive their food pack. We hope to see the program grow to reach even more children in Knott County.”

Did you know?

Sullivan’s newest board member is also a former Award recipient

Dr. Philip Watt, who recently joined Sullivan’s Board of Trustees, brings a lengthy list of qualifications to the table, but one in particular makes him a uniquely perfect fit. Watt is a Sullivan Award winner himself, having received the honor in 1983 from his undergraduate alma mater, Sewanee.

Watt grew up attending a small school in a small town — the newly founded, highly selective Brookwood School in Thomasville, Ga. If Watt’s childhood surroundings were decidedly small, they were no indication of how far that upbringing would ultimately take him. After graduating from Brookwood in 1979, Watt embarked on a career that was undeniably big.

Sullivan Award and Sewanee degree in hand, Watt went on to Johns Hopkins University in 1983 to pursue a master’s degree and ultimately his doctorate from the medical school. It was the start of an unusual and inspiring medical career.

Watt has served as director and co-founder of the North Luangwa Conservation Project’s Rural Health Care Program and held various positions with the Task Force for Child Survival and Development. Both organizations promote health causes in Africa, and Watt’s work with them has taken him to Zambia, where he and his wife, Alston, lived for 18 months.

Watt has also made his mark in the world of academia, having served as a faculty member at Emory University. He’s also served on boards and councils at Emory, Johns Hopkins, Florida State University, and back home at the Brookwood School.

Watt’s impact on the communities he has served is impressively diverse, reflecting his own widespread passions. In the civic realm, he has used his talents to support conservation organizations in Georgia and Florida, including the Georgia Board of Natural Resources and the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy. He has also thrown his talent behind cultural institutions such as Thomasville Landmarks, which helps preserve and promote history and architecture in his home county.

With such an extensive resume in service, Watt exemplifies and honors the Sullivan spirit. That, of course, is expected of all board members. But it’s especially exciting to see a Sullivan family member, more than three decades into a career fulfilling his promise as an Award winner, come back home to inspire the same spirit in others.

A mission and a privilege

Students at Queens University of Charlotte dive in to volunteerism

Students from Queens University of Charlotte pack a wide variety of new experiences in service into a short summer as part of the Summer in Service program

To most college students, summer vacation means trying new things and having a great time.  Interns at Queens University of Charlotte’s Summer in Service (SIS) program are no exception. They simply find their summer fun in less expected places — working with children at a local Salvation Army site, writing grant applications for a tutoring program, giving aid to veterans, or getting their hands dirty in the community garden.

The official motto of Queens — a member of the Sullivan network that bestows two Sullivan Awards each year — is “non ministrari sed ministrare” or “not to be served, but to serve.” SIS, as well as the Center for Active Citizenship, which runs the program, embody that motto by making service not just a mission, but a privilege. Students interested in the program — usually those considering nonprofit work after graduation—must apply and interview for the right to volunteer.

Those selected are in for three months of learning and working with 13 diverse local nonprofits affiliated with the Center for Active Citizenship. Rather than choosing one, students rotate through different projects — often seeing them through from beginning to end — for several organizations. Interns work four days a week from 9:00 to 2:00—the internship, which is unpaid, is designed to allow students who need to work a paying job in addition the time they need to do so.

Projects include working with local Boys and Girls Clubs, food banks, and housing programs such as Habitat for Humanity

SIS encourages interns to reflect on their experiences by requiring them to keep weekly blogs throughout the summer. The group is also asked to think creatively by planning a service project of their own. They then spend the final week of their internship implementing it.

The experience is equal parts labor and education. While interns working on a Habitat for Humanity build, for example, might put in time swinging a hammer and hanging drywall, they also attend staff meetings and meet the executive director. There, they learn the true challenges of nonprofit work — budgeting concerns, volunteer management, and making due with limited resources, to name a few — and come to understand the bigger picture.

For 2015 intern Shelly Young, the experience was transformative, changing both her understanding of the meaning of service and her passion for the work.

“My love for volunteering and my respect for nonprofit workers grew from the start of the program,” she says. “Service goes both ways — you are giving your time and labor for a cause while gaining experience about the world and building new relationships with people.”

For many, that behind-the-scenes access can open career doors. Students have even landed jobs at some of the organizations in the program after participating. For all, the summer provides experience and connections that will serve them well in the nonprofit world.

“This program has opened new doors for me that I would never have come across if it was not for SIS. It has been a life-changing experience,” Young says.

A program as unique as SIS is likely to change many lives, both among the students who learn the difficulty and the beauty of serving others and among the many citizens in need. As long as Queens continues to live by its motto, those citizens will feel the impact of its mission each summer and throughout the many long careers in service those summers will inspire.

Boys and Girls Club participants have a little fun while
having their photo taken by SIS interns