Cumberlands’ Board Games Drive Brightens Lives of Homeless Youths

When homeless youth staying at Ryan’s Place, a safe haven in Barbourville, Ky., were asked what they wanted most at the shelter, they said, “We would like some games to play together.” Jessi Montgomery, the fund development manager for Ryan’s Place and a graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school University of the Cumberlands, who was finishing her MBA through the university at the time, was stunned. She’d been discussing the shelter’s funding needs with other staff and was trying to narrow down what Ryan’s Place needed most by asking the residents themselves. She didn’t expect games to be at the top of their list.

“These young adults have nothing, yet their only request was something to share with each other,” Montgomery said. “I was floored. I was expecting a long list of building repairs, vehicles and other expensive items, but all they wanted was something to share. That evening, when I was logging into my Cumberlands MBA classes, I saw a Pats Serve article. I realized Cumberlands’ commitment to the community and reached out.”

She was immediately contacted by Dr. Jennifer Simpson, the associate dean of academic affairs at Cumberlands. The two of them began organizing a board game drive for Ryan’s Place with Provost Emily Coleman and the Office of Student Services. Cumberlands’ Department of Athletics stepped in to sponsor the drive, encouraging each sports team to bring in a board game.

In all, between 15 and 20 games—like Phase 10, Uno and Sorry!—were collected and brought to Cumberlands’ campus for Montgomery to pick up. Simpson said in an email to Montgomery that she hoped the games would “provide hours of bonding, laughter and smiles” for the young adults.

They have. Especially during social distancing mandates, the residents were grateful to have something new and fun to enjoy together to fill their time indoors. According to Montgomery, game nights “are now a frequent occurrence” at Ryan’s Place.

“Seeing our athletics department step up to help Ryan’s Place and being contacted by caring students like Jessi is a wonderful representation of our mission to lead through service,” Simpson said. “Jessi recognized that it’s not just something we say, it’s a mission we live, and we’re thankful she reached out. We got the opportunity to serve youth in our community in a way we never had before.”

Ryan’s Place was opened in 2018 by KCEOC Community Action Partnership and serves as a safe haven for homeless youth aged 18-24. It is funded by Kentucky Housing Corporation and HUD’s (Housing and Urban Development) Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program by a grant made available to Promise Zone counties.

The shelter is named in memory of Ryan White, a young man who found himself homeless several times in his life. He always trusted KCEOC (Kentucky Communities Economic Opportunity Council) in his times of need and later became an advocate for other homeless youth. Ryan, who served on the Youth Action Board throughout the grant proposal process, sadly passed away in a car accident just days after his 18th birthday, right before the youth shelter was opened. Ryan wanted other homeless youth to have a voice and a safe place to stay. KCEOC named the shelter “Ryan’s Place” and dedicated it to his memory and his mission.

The goal of Ryan’s Place is for all residents to be able to become self-sufficient. It offers an on-site case manager, employment services, life skills, and basic “adulting” lessons. Ryan’s Place follows KCEOC’s principle of offering clients a hand up, not a handout.

Jessi Montgomery graduated summa cum laude from Cumberlands in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in human services and completed her online MBA at Cumberlands in May 2020. For the past several years, Montgomery has worked in a variety of community-centered organizations and nonprofits.

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of the Cumberlands website.

New Mercer University Center Could Provide Millions With Access to Clean Water

A new center at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University aims to help the world’s most water-poor communities get access to clean water.

Mercer University established the Cecil Day Family Center for International Groundwater Innovation on June 11. The center, led by Dr. Michael MacCarthy, will accelerate efforts in the Mercer On Mission program and Mercer’s School of Engineering to solve water problems around the world, particularly in developing countries.

The Cecil Day Family Center for International Groundwater Innovation was seeded with a seven-figure gift from Deen Day Sanders, a Mercer alumna and former trustee from Atlanta.

Related: Sullivan Foundation alumnus Elizabeth DeWetter organizes 6K fundraiser to build wells in Zambia

“The University is deeply grateful to Deen Day Sanders for this significant gift that will literally bring clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world,” said Mercer President William D. Underwood. “The solutions that will come out of the Cecil Day Family Center for International Groundwater Innovation, working with local community leaders initially in the Dominican Republic, Madagascar and Uganda, will be a game-changer in developing sustainable, replicable methods of delivering clean water to the thirsty throughout the world.”

Sanders’ late husband, Cecil B. Day Sr., founded Days Inns of America and was a noted philanthropist. He is the namesake Mercer’s graduate and professional campus in Atlanta.

“We look forward to building upon Mercer’s successes over the past decade working with local actors in developing communities to improve access to safe drinking water,” said MacCarthy, assistant professor of environmental and civil engineering and director of the Engineering for Development program.

MaCarthy said the new center “allows us the opportunity to contribute significantly to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target of providing safe water for all by the year 2030, which we aim to do through working with collaborators globally to focus on some of the hardest to reach households and communities.”

Related: Wofford College social entrepreneurs plant a SEED. for global change

“In addition to service and research, the center will use innovative and practical ways to teach sustainable groundwater topics to Mercer students and project beneficiaries,” he added.

Globally, more than one billion people lack access to clean, safe water, and two million die annually as a result of drinking contaminated water. The United Nations declared the decade of 2018-2028 as “the water decade,” noting that “the world is careening towards a global water crisis.”

The work of the Cecil Day Family Center will focus on three core components—household self-supply, small community water systems and global groundwater innovation—to provide an extensive approach to tackling the global water crisis.

“For many years I have been interested in the environment and water quality in particular,” Sanders said. “This program, that also supports students in their desire to learn and to help others in need, certainly aligns with those interests. I am blessed to be a part of it.”

Mercer students, community members and technicians stand in front of a stone masonry water tank in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Dr. Michael MacCarthy/Mercer On Mission)

Through the Mercer On Mission program, the University has been addressing the urgent need for access to clean water since 2010 in Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda and the Dominican Republic.

“This incredibly generous gift by Deen Day Sanders to the Mercer On Mission program will bring together world-renowned researchers and practitioners to address one of the world’s most perilous crises: lack of access to clean water,” said Dr. Craig McMahan, Mercer University minister and dean of Chapel, who oversees Mercer On Mission. “Combining tried-and-true methods with breakthrough technology, the project launched by this gift will save the lives of thousands of people and will bring health and hope to millions more. What a fitting expression of the vision and compassion that have always been at the center of Deen Day Sanders’ life.”

Related: Mercer University grad focuses on HIV prevention in Peace Corps work

In the years ahead, hundreds of Mercer students will engage in Mercer On Mission programs in impoverished areas of Africa and the Caribbean while taking courses from and serving closely with MacCarthy, a leading expert on cost-effective rural water supply solutions in the developing world. Scores of other students will join MacCarthy’s research groups to design and test cutting-edge innovations in groundwater protocols and technology.

The Cecil Day Family Center will allow MacCarthy and his students to move into a new phase of their collaborative work with Dr. John Cherry and Dr. Beth Parker of the G360 Institute for Groundwater Research at the University of Guelph in Canada, a world-leading group in fractured-rock and applied groundwater research. Cherry and Parker are internationally renowned hydrogeologists, and Cherry is the 2020 recipient of the Stockholm Water Prize, the world’s most prestigious water award.

The center’s activities will be aimed at bringing access to safe water to tens of thousands of people, while also piloting and refining innovative systems that have the potential to bring first-time access to clean water to tens of millions of the people living in rural mountainous communities worldwide.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Mercer University website.

The ‘Invisible Front Lines’: How Brenau University Helps Unseen and Forgotten Populations Survive the Pandemic

Tara Lynch, an alumnus of Sullivan Foundation partner school Brenau University’s Women’s College, works on what she calls the “invisible front lines” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lynch is a psychiatric mental nurse practitioner for Salveo Integrative Health, which provides behavioral and mental health services throughout North Georgia and statewide through community and organizational partnerships. She also works in private practice three days a week.

Lynch, who earned her B.S. in Nursing, said the current climate has been especially challenging for her clients, including the low-income, inadequately housed and homeless population she works with at Hope Clinic in Lawrenceville.

Related: Social enterprise takes kids on a global journey of the imagination to cope with the pandemic

“The homeless population has been largely unseen in this crisis,” Lynch said. “Often they depend on businesses such as fast food restaurants and coffee shops to be able to use the restroom, freshen up daily, obtain inexpensive hot meals and stay hydrated. With many dining rooms and restrooms closed, they have very limited options.”

photo of mental health nurse practitioner Tara Lynch in her white medical jacket

Tara Lynch

Lynch says anxiety and depression have also been a problem for her clients, especially among high school seniors who had to leave school early. And for more severely ill individuals, such as those diagnosed with schizophrenia, she says changes in their routines have been particularly devastating.

“Stability is key for this population, and the rampant conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 are difficult and frightening for this population,” she said.

Aside from delivering medication samples and making welfare checks on behalf of families who may not have heard from a loved one with mental health challenges, Lynch—like many others in her field—has been working from home since social-distancing measures were put in place. This has made it hard for some of her clients to get in-person treatment, since many of them do not know how to use technology, have limited or no internet access, or do not own a computer or smartphone.

Related: Davidson College alumnus helps spearhead Feed the Front Line Charlotte initiative

Finding treatment locations has also been a problem for Jennifer Langston, a Brenau University senior majoring in psychology and the executive director of Reboot Jackson. Langston’s organization provides peer support and resources to those seeking recovery from mental health and substance use disorders in Jackson County, Georgia.

“When people come to us now asking for help finding somewhere to go to treatment, we are hard pressed to find a place that is doing intakes because of COVID-19,” she said. “There is just nowhere for people to go.”

photo of jennifer langston of Reboot Jackson with colleagues in black logoed shirts

Jennifer Langston (right), executive director of Reboot Jackson, with colleagues

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Langston says the number of individuals that Reboot Jackson serves has more than doubled. The organization has moved its programming online and is providing support groups for those in recovery, including groups specifically for military veterans.

“This population is of deep concern at present in the mental health and recovery communities as they may be particularly vulnerable to relapse or experience other complications during this time,” Langston said.

Housing has also become a major barrier. Several treatment facilities to which Reboot Jackson normally refers people have shut their doors, and some have even asked current clients to leave and return at a later time. All Langston and her team can do is forge ahead with what is not beyond their control.

“My staff and I have tripled our efforts to connect with our peers and with one another,” she said. “We have been working in the office, working from home, answering our phones in the middle of the night—and juggling this all while trying to practice our own self-care.”

Like Lynch and Langston, Assistant Professor of Psychology Melanie Covert has also been busy on the mental health front. Covert is volunteering with the Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line (866-399-8938), which provides support, coping strategies and follow-up resources for those impacted psychologically or emotionally by COVID-19.

Covert, who earned her master’s in clinical counseling psychology from Brenau, typically works the line four or five shifts a week, either from noon to 4 p.m. or midnight to 4 a.m. While that might sound arduous, she says she is able to do so from home while also fulfilling her other responsibilities.

“I am really grateful to be able to serve others in some small way and to do my part in helping our community get through this together,” Covert says.

Melanie Covert, instructor of psychology at Brenau University (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Department of Psychology Chair Julie Battle says Brenau University faculty members and students have done an amazing job of adapting to the current environment, even as they continue to do volunteer and other work outside of the classroom.

“We are working hard to support each other and to continue with our academic mission,” Battle said. “This is especially challenging for educational and clinical programs in which students provide clinical services to others as part of their training.”

Despite those challenges, she said Brenau continues to provide “an extraordinary educational experience.”

Related: Mary Baldwin University staff and students find myriad ways to serve community during pandemic

That experience includes offering care and services for students during what has been a tough adjustment for some, an adjustment that Brenau Counselor Gay Baldwin says could potentially lead to cases of situational depression or anxiety.

Particularly at issue, Baldwin says, are the dynamics that students face when going back home and trying to complete schoolwork in an environment they might not be used to.

“Going to classes online, taking and studying for exams, writing papers, and doing all of that while parents and siblings are around – students have to set some boundaries,” she said.

Gay Baldwin

When the university moved from on-ground to remote learning, Baldwin says she made a note of students she typically works with and quickly reached out to them.

“I sent them all an email to let them know, ‘I’m here and available to help,’” she says.

Baldwin has been practicing telemental health for about four years, which she says made for an easier transition from mostly in-person counseling to sessions by email, text, phone, Zoom or FaceTime. Relaxed HIPAA standards in regard to telemental health and COVID-19 have also allowed her to provide better services.

“I’m just glad I can be here for our students,” Baldwin said.

This story was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Brenau University website.

Davidson College Alumnus Helps Spearhead Feed the Front Line Charlotte Initiative

Like millions of Americans, Jenna Brunner, an alumnus of Sullivan Foundation partner school Davidson College, and her Wells Fargo colleagues quickly adjusted to working from home. But it wasn’t long before conversation during weekly remote meetings turned to how they could make a difference in the community.

In a matter of days, inspired by a similar program in Texas, they developed an initiative with a two-fold purpose: to deliver thousands of meals to front-line healthcare workers in Charlotte, N.C. and help generate revenue for local restaurants.

Brunner and three teammates created Feed the Front Line (FTFL) Charlotte.

Related: “Pledge My Check” campaign asks affluent Americans to donate their stimulus checks to people in need

As of just three weeks after the official launch, the group had surpassed $50,000 in donations, which equaled 5,000 meals. Every dollar given to FTFL goes directly to the partner restaurants, who then prepare and deliver meals to Charlotte hospital workers.

“The goal was to be as efficient as possible in getting this off the ground because the need was, and continues to be, very urgent,” Brunner said. “Just last week, we ramped up to three deliveries per day—that equals 1,400 meals between Sunday and Friday.”

The restaurants have been generous, throwing in extra meals with the orders and making their dishes available at a lower cost so each donation does more. Currently, there are close to 20 partner restaurants, including Haberdish, Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub and Growlers Pourhouse, all run by Davidson alumni Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown. The pair also owns Reigning Doughnuts and is in the process of opening a fifth concept.

“This is a hard time for restaurants, big and small,” Brown said. “Prior to COVID-19, we had businesses based highly upon creating an experience for guests, and now we’ve been reduced to take-out. It’s a totally different business. We’ve also lost a gigantic portion of our team, and there has been a lot of emotion around that loss. Still, we are keeping our chins up and trying to find ways to get through. FTFL Charlotte is a part of weathering this storm.”

Related: Newberry College promises tuition freeze for incoming freshmen

While restaurants have suffered significant job and revenue loss, this partnership helps with those who are still working every day.

“I think a big benefit in being a part of FTFL Charlotte is the boost of morale among our team members,” Brown said. “Our staff takes pride in making these meals for our healthcare workers. It’s an incredible opportunity to feel like we are part of the solution and part of keeping our front-line workers fed.”

As fundraising grows, FTFL will add more partners.

“It’s very clear that people are looking for ways to give back during this time. Luckily, getting involved with FTFL Charlotte is something you can do from the comfort of your own home, while abiding by the various stay-at-home restrictions in place,” Brunner said. “What’s unique about our organization is that we launched as a youth-led, local grassroots campaign. Because of this, we are able to be incredibly nimble and fast-acting with our approach to deploying funds raised. On top of that, we are completely volunteer-based and very transparent that 100 percent of every dollar donated (minus transaction fees) goes directly to our restaurant partners and, ultimately, to our front-line workers in the form of meals.”

Most of the work of the FTFL team happens from their homes, but they have joined in a few deliveries. They also regularly speak with restaurant partners and meal recipients.

“We’ve had restaurant owners on the phone almost in tears because they might not be able to pay next month’s rent, and we’ve heard from healthcare workers who are incredibly gracious and feel very supported by their community right now,” Brunner said. “It makes me emotional to think about … it’s really special.”

Alumni at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Kentucky have founded their own chapter of Feed the Front Line. Read more about their organization here.

This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Davidson College website.


UVA Faculty, Alumni Leading Effort to Combat Food Insecurity During Pandemic

By Caroline Newman

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately one in six people in the Charlottesville/Albemarle, Virginia region faced food insecurity, unable to consistently access and afford healthy food.

Local leaders say the pandemic, which has led to a sharp increase in unemployment claims across the commonwealth and the country, is exacerbating existing problems, especially where systemic issues already existed.

Related: Pledge My Check campaign asks financially comfortable Americans to donate their stimulus checks to help those in need

“Nonprofits and grassroots groups in our network have seen an increase in demand for services while they have also had to pivot to helping people shelter in place, often relying on volunteers and facing supply shortages,” Brooke Ray said. “Many of our community members were already struggling and are now facing even more acute concerns and, with new unemployment issues, others are emerging in need of support.”

An array of community organizations and leaders are working as hard as they can to help – many of them from Sullivan Foundation partner school the University of Virginia (UVA).

Ray, for example, is a member of the planning team for Cultivate Charlottesville’s Food Justice Network, a collective of more than 35 community organizations that have been working for racial equity, health and food security in Charlottesville. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the network is coordinating resources and partners to help ensure people who need food and resources most can continue to access them.

Ray is also the operations manager at the Global Policy Center in UVA’s Frank Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy, which, along with University organizations like the UVA Equity Center, is providing logistical and financial support to the Food Justice Network and other community groups, as well as elevating their message to university leaders.

Rosa Key, a member of the Cultivate Charlottesville advocate team, hands out pre-packaged produce in the Westhaven community, part of a weekly food distribution. (Photo courtesy Cultivate Charlottesville)

Together, those organizations are meeting critical needs. The Loaves & Fishes food pantry, for example, offers much-needed groceries to families and individuals. City Schoolyard Garden, which partners with Charlottesville City Schools to teach gardening and nutrition skills, is now coordinating meal donations for students who rely on school lunches for regular meals. The PB&J Fund is providing more than 300 bagged meals each Friday to families, in partnership with Charlottesville City Schools. Local Food Hub, a nonprofit that partners with local farmers, is working to get fresh, locally grown produce into more neighborhoods, supporting farmers and residents at the same time.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build “super farm” to address food insecurity

“There is a lot of great work going on right now, with a lot of different organizations pitching in,” Food Justice Network Program Director Shantell Bingham said. “My job is to check in with those organizations, and coordinate efforts and connect people so that we have the consistent impact we want to see, especially in the communities that need it most.”

Bingham, who earned both her undergraduate and Master of Public Health degree at UVA, has been working on food security issues in Charlottesville since she was an undergraduate, when she started a “Growing for Change” project partnering with public housing residents to build and plant gardens. That organization is now part of the Food Justice Network.

Right now, Bingham and other community leaders are particularly focused on making sure that pandemic-related relief efforts are equitable, reaching communities across Charlottesville and particularly those who are most vulnerable to the pandemic or underrepresented in other areas.

“Food insecurity was a persistent issue in Charlottesville before the pandemic, and the inequities we see in our food system are also very present in education, housing and economic wealth gaps, often founded in race or socioeconomic status,” Bingham said. “These are not new issues in Charlottesville and, as always, it is important to think about who controls resources, how they are distributed, and how nonprofits and leaders can share those resources in a way that fits what the community actually needs.”

The biggest part of that, Bingham said, is getting community members involved at every stage – something the Food Justice Network has prioritized for years.

“We have to set up programs that are driven by community members, and to get people who are living these issues day in and day out at the table, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bingham said. “We want to talk with people about what best meets their needs, and how we can set up food delivery, for example, to meet those needs.”

Volunteers and partners from the Food Justice Network, City Schoolyard Garden, the Salvation Army, Pearl Island and the Batten School prepared spring break meals for Charlottesville students. (Photo: Aleen Carey)

As part of that work, Bingham serves as a community director and local steering committee member at the UVA Equity Center, where she works with other local leaders, Equity Center staff and UVA faculty members to help identify concerns and coordinate responses.

“Our local partners are well-organized and dedicated, but COVID-19 has greatly increased the load they have to tackle,” Equity Center executive director Ben Allen said. “At the Equity Center, we can help to elevate their concerns, talk to University leaders and groups around UVA and in the community and identify areas that need support.”

The center employees a grant writer who is helping local organizations apply for pandemic-related grants and other funding. Staff members are also helping track food routes across the community, identifying which organizations are providing food and where it is going.

Related: Duke University: U.S. needs to rethink its patchwork of community water systems

“That helps us see which areas of the community are not getting the food they need,” Allen said. “We want to keep that going and grow that working, during and after the pandemic, to keep giving families the support they need.”

It’s a mission that the Food Justice Network and the organizations it supports have been focused on for a long time – and one they will continue to pursue long after this pandemic. That is why, Ray said, supporting those organizations and mutual aid efforts is so important, and why the Global Policy Center is dedicating her time, plus that of two research assistants, to focus on this response.

“These organizations have been doing this work for a long time, and they are going to be here long after this response is over,” Ray said. “We want to invest in them, make sure they remain viable and able to support the community, and pursue much needed systems change in addition to critical emergency response work.”

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the UVA website.

Duke University: U.S. Needs to Rethink Its Patchwork of Community Water Systems

As droughts become more frequent and intense, the fragmentation of water service in the U.S. among tens of thousands of community systems, most of which are small and rely on local funding, leaves many households vulnerable to water contamination or loss of service, according to a new analysis from Sullivan Foundation partner school Duke University.

These vulnerabilities aren’t distributed equally, the study shows. Households in low-income or predominantly minority neighborhoods are likely to face the highest risks.

Resolving this disparity and making sure the taps in these homes don’t run dry will require a fundamental re-evaluation of how the nation’s patchwork of community water systems (CWSs) is managed and funded.

Related: The Quest for Water: Ignite Retreat Alumnus Elizabeth De Wetter organizes 6K fundraiser to build wells in Zambia

“Small water systems already are at a disadvantage when it comes to protecting water security during drought, because of the financial constraints they face,” said Megan Mullin, associate professor of environmental politics at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who wrote the analysis. “Underlying patterns of segregation can amplify these weaknesses along economic and racial lines.”

Mullin published her peer-reviewed article April 17 in a special drought edition of Science.

photo of Megan Mullin of Duke University, a researcher on affordable drinking water issues

Megan Mullin

Disparities in drinking water insecurity are rooted in segregation and the local political economy of public services, she explained. Because CWSs rely on user fees for their funding, they historically have extended service to neighborhoods or adjacent municipalities where residents are more able to pay. The result is that some communities get high-quality water service, while others – often rural communities or places where poverty is concentrated – get lower-quality service. Repairs or upgrades to pipes and other infrastructure are made less frequently, allowing leaks and increasing the potential risks of contamination. When drought arrives, these systems can’t cope.

“Drought aggravates vulnerabilities for small, under-resourced water systems. The user fee finance model then limits options for drought response, because policies that conserve dwindling water resources reduce revenue for water systems and make it harder for residents to pay their water bills,” Mullin said.

Related: Rollins College teaches sustainability beyond the classroom

“Until now, people have tried to resolve these disparities through piecemeal approaches. We need to think more fundamentally about our reliance on user fees as a financial model for the delivery of such an essential service. States should consider equalizing resources across water systems to counter the legacy of racism and segregation, as we have done in public school funding,” she said.

To do this, policymakers need to have a clearer understanding about the nature and extent of demographic disparities between water systems, she said. Recent efforts to develop maps of water system service areas in several states show promise, she said, and should be replicated nationwide and integrated with data on drinking water finance, infrastructure, and water supply and use. Over the last year, Mullin has been leading a team of Duke students to produce such a map of North Carolina water systems, through a partnership with the state’s Division of Water Resources.

“Of the 50,000+ community water systems delivering water year-round in the United States, more than 80% serve fewer than 3,300 people,” Mullin said. “Systems this small face tremendous challenges in delivering safe drinking water even under normal conditions, and as droughts become more frequent and intense, the challenges are going to mount.”

For these systems to become more resilient, they need to encourage and enforce water conservation. The strongest tools at their disposal for doing that are tiered pricing and mandatory use restrictions, but these reduce the water-use fees the systems depend on for funding and create an economic burden for low-income customers that could result in failure to pay and subsequent service shutoff.

Equalizing resources across water systems, as states already do for public schools, would circumvent many of these trade-offs and improve water security to millions of American homes.

Research supporting the new review paper was funded by a Research Collaboratory grant from Duke University.

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Duke University website.

“Pledge My Check” Campaign Asks Americans to Donate Their Stimulus Checks to People in Need

Many Americans desperately need the stimulus checks being issued by the government to pay utility bills, buy groceries or make their mortgage payments as the coronavirus pandemic continues. But for more privileged Americans it’s free money that they can spend however they choose—and a group of volunteers from North Carolina hopes they’ll spend it to help others in dire need.

The group, including Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat alumnus Jordan Bowman, has launched a website called Pledge My Check, which encourages people in financially stable positions to donate all or part of their stimulus checks to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: The quest for water: Ignite Retreat alumnus Elizabeth De Wetter organizes 6K fundraiser to build wells in Zambia

Kevin Miller, a Raleigh, N.C. social entrepreneur and one of the project’s creators, said that, right before the stimulus checks started going out, he “saw Best Buy advertising $1,200 TVs and thought to myself … if people can use their check to buy a TV, how can we try and convince them to turn that money towards doing some good?”

More than $50,000 was pledged from 100 people across 15 states in the first week. As of this writing, the site has raised nearly $90,000 from 145 donors, and the number continues to rise. The organizers’ goal is to reach $1 million in pledged donations.

Individuals are encouraged to donate directly to the people, causes or organizations they want to support. Pledge My Check does not accept or process the monetary donations; instead, it provides an online record of the pledges and sends follow-up emails to make sure the donations were made.

“The idea is to encourage folks to pledge in a way that is life-giving to them and others,” said Bowman, a business administration major at North Carolina State University. “There is complete freedom in how people pledge, but we are encouraging them to consider local causes and to be creative in how they can use this money to support their neighbors, nonprofits and small businesses.”

The site records and displays recent pledges from donors like Kirsten. “My husband and I decided to donate 50 percent of our total checks,” she said. “We’ve made monthly gifts to several organizations: Heifer International, UNICEF, The Arts and Science Center of Southeast Arkansas and Doctors Without Borders.”

Related: Wofford College social entrepreneurs plant a SEED. for global change 

Other highlighted organizations include Meals on Wheels, and GiveDirectly. The site also allows organizations to create their own custom pledge pages for free.

The Pledge My Check initiative is the work of an all-volunteer team based in Raleigh-Durham. “This project is all about bringing out the best in our communities,” said co-creator Ryan O’Donnell. “When the stimulus checks were first announced, I felt this was a simple way for people to help their neighbors.”

Lead designer Bethany Faulkner agreed. “I’m fortunate to be in a stable financial situation,” she said. “I wanted to help, and this stimulus check is an opportunity to redirect that vital financial support to those who need it most in our community. We built this tool to enable that and make it a community effort, even as we’re separated in our own homes.”

photo of Jordan Bowman and a group of young people involved in Journeymen Triangle

Pledge My Check cofounder Jordan Bowman, far right, also founded Journeymen Triangle, a mentoring organization that teaches emotional intelligence to middle- and high-school boys.

In addition to co-founding Pledge My Check, Bowman serves as executive director of Journeymen Triangle, a mentoring organization that teaches emotional intelligence to middle- and high-school boys. He attended the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat in the fall of 2018—his second semester at North Carolina State. “At the retreat, I found inspiration and encouragement to continue building the Journeymen program,” he said. “I was able to practice and refine my pitch, and I met really awesome students and facilitators that I am still connected with today.”

photo of Jordan Bowman of Pledge My Check and Journeymen Triangle

Jordan Bowman

“The Ignite Retreat came at a pivotal time in my path and led me to double down my time and energy investments in Journeymen and other social entrepreneurial ventures,” Bowman added. “By the end of 2018, I had raised enough money as board president of Journeymen to resign from the board and come on as the first paid staff member of the organization. Last year [2019] I was able to hire a program director, and we grew our program 300 percent!”

Bowman expects to graduate from North Carolina State in either May 2020 or December 2020, depending on the pandemic. Meanwhile, he also works part-time as an associate for North Carolina State’s Business Sustainability Collaborative, which teaches students how to use business as a force for good. And he’s building a virtual community called Brother Hang. He says Brother Hang “allows men from across the world to belong in a community that cares about authentic connection and developing the mature masculine together. We share vulnerably our emotions, struggles and successes.”

“I am now heading into the close of my chapter at NC State and am looking forward to being a student of life full-time!” Bowman added. “I am excited about pursuing other projects and ventures. When the opportunity presented itself to build and grow Pledge My Check, I jumped in, and I can’t wait to see what other adventures are waiting for me as we enter into this new, beautiful, post-COVID-19 world.”

photo of Jordan Bowman at a Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

Jordan Bowman is a past attendee of the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat.

Carson-Newman University’s Appalachian Outreach Ministry Sees Increased Need

Carson-Newman University’s Appalachian Outreach Ministry (AO) continues to see a surge from those in need brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the university reported earlier this month.

“We have seen an increase in numbers,” said Jean-Ann Washam, executive director of Appalachian Outreach. “We are seeing people who have never received services before [but] who have not been able to go back to work.”

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build “super farm” to combat food insecurity

Washam said some are employees in the retail and restaurant business. “This past month we served over 400 families; that is over 100 new families for us,” she said.

AO, which is serving Jefferson, Cocke and Grainger counties, is operating its Samaritan House ministry at full capacity, helping families who are experiencing a housing crisis, Washam said.

But it is their food distribution ministry that is really being buoyed by the local community. Washam said that Appalachian Outreach is operating the distribution from their parking lot at 511 Municipal Drive in Jefferson City, allowing for people to safely drive up and pick up items.

Food distribution takes place from 1-4 p.m. Mondays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We’ve had a really good community response,” said Washam. “We’ve had people recognize that we need additional food because we have new families. They’ve brought food and given monetary donations.”

Related: The Plastic Bank turns plastic waste into currency for the poor

Washam noted that a recent donation by Pierce’s Produce in Jefferson City allowed them to give out fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. “Some of our families would not have been able to purchase such items,” she said. “It was all because of one of our local businesses that asked, ‘What can we do to help?’”

She explained that Wal-Mart and Food City have both established donation areas at their stores, allowing for customers to purchase pre-assembled bags of groceries that Appalachian Outreach can later pick up at the store.

“Local businesses recognize our pantry is strained,” said Washam. “We cannot operate at the same level with the same amount of food on our shelves while we are giving out so much more.”

It’s not only food that locals are donating. Washam said a recent donation of homemade facemasks by Faith Baptist Church is helping keep her volunteers and staff safe. The gesture meant a lot to the ministry director, who is quick to champion the commitment of her volunteers and staff.

“Despite their own health concerns,” said Washam, “our volunteers understand that there are people who would not have food if they were not here.

“I think in the middle of a crisis, this is just affirmation that this is a community that works together in good times and bad,” Washam added. “We just pull together.”

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Carson-Newman University website.


Ole Miss Grad Student Lends a Green Thumb to Families in Need

By Sarah Sapp/UM School of Applied Sciences

Prior to the pandemic-related lockdown in Oxford, Mississippi, students at Oxford’s Bramlett Elementary School and the University of Mississippi’s Willie Price Lab School had been learning to grow fresh greens and herbs in tower gardens. They harvested them for salads and smoothies while learning valuable lessons about nutrition and growing food.

The produce that once served as a learning tool and healthy snack for area children is now being put to use in a new way during the COVID-19 health crisis: feeding families in need.

Tess Johnson, an Ole Miss master’s student in health promotion, is leading the tower garden project and worked with teachers and administrators at both schools to coordinate keeping the towers going after schools closed due to the pandemic. Thanks to their combined efforts, any family utilizing the grab-and-go program at Oxford Middle School or the Oxford Pantry to supplement their nutritional needs can get leafy greens and fresh herbs when one of the 12 tower gardens is ready to harvest.

“We did not want to end our projects and knew that the community could benefit from free produce, so we all agreed to keep growing,” Johnson said. “I plan to grow at both Willie Price and Bramlett for as long as they will let me. I would feel selfish if I stopped when we have access to such a wonderful tool that can grow food for our community and didn’t utilize it.”

“Teachers are willing to help check on and harvest the towers; it is a group effort and by no means only me,” she added. “We are also able to share the pictures of the towers growing with students at both schools, so they can feel connected to what is happening.”

The project also includes tower gardens at Guyton Hall and the Turner Center, home of the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management, that will be donated when they are ready.

Allison Ford-Wade, professor of health promotion and behavior and associate dean of community engagement in the School of Applied Sciences, oversees the graduate program in health promotion. She works closely with Johnson on her research project to evaluate whether students exposed to tower gardening will consume more vegetables and if their preference for vegetables will increase after exposure to classroom gardens.

The passion for creating healthier communities that she sees in Johnson is a passion that undergraduate students can pursue in the newest degree program offered by UM’s School of Applied Sciences: the Bachelor of Science in Public Health and Health Sciences, or PHHS, Ford-Wade said.

“Tess has a real passion for helping children, but students in our new PHHS program can choose a path that aligns with their own professional and personal passions—to serve any population that is meaningful to them as program planners and evaluators, school educators or other roles in the public health sector,” Ford-Wade said.

UM graduate student Tess Johnson drops off fresh greens harvested from the tower garden at Willie Price Lab School to Oxford Middle School, where they will be distributed to local families using the grab-and-go lunch program. (Submitted photo)

“The spotlight is on public health workers everywhere during the COVID-19 crisis,” she added. “Now, more than ever, we need professionals who can understand the science and translate it in a meaningful way for the public. The breadth of this degree suits future professionals at every level—from those leading local programming, like the tower gardens, to those coordinating public health information for the Centers for Disease Control.”

The PHHS degree is housed in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management. The curriculum is focused on health promotion and behavior and public health science.

Graduates will be eligible to sit for the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing Inc.’s Certified Health Education Specialist Examination and will be prepared for careers in public health, health education, community health, worksite health, population and global health, and other health-related professions.

Students enrolled in the health science studies emphasis area will focus on preparing for graduate education in medicine, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, athletic training and other health-related professions. Students enrolled in the community health emphasis area will develop foundational and applied knowledge in the area of health promotion, community health and public health.

Students will learn how to plan, implement and evaluate local programming, such as the tower garden project Johnson is running, but those enrolled in the community health emphasis also will learn to apply their knowledge to scale at state, national and global levels.

Those enrolling in the major will complete courses such as Basic Epidemiology, Human Health and Illness, Environmental Health, Public Health Policy, Personal and Community Health.

Students in the community health emphasis also will complete a professional experience in a community health setting or agency. They will work under faculty supervision with a professional in health education or health promotion who will serve as a mentor.

“If you are an inspired leader or compassionate provider looking for a way to make a difference in the world, this program is an incredible place to start,” Ford-Wade said.

That’s what attracted Johnson to the Ole Miss program. Aside from the garden project, she is also passionate about helping local children maintain physical activity and mindfulness practice.

Johnson began teaching kids yoga at Willie Price Lab School part-time in 2016. With no way to join the children for group practice during the health crisis, Johnson records a yoga class each week to share with their families.

“The driving focus for me is simple: to help my community and be a resource for them,” she said. “Teaching kids about growing their own food or how to use the power of their breath is so rewarding. I want all kids to have the tools they need to be healthy. I want schools, communities and people in general to have tools that can help them better their lives. That is why the health promotion program was such a perfect fit for me when I had the opportunity to go back to school for my master’s.”

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Mississippi 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.