Green Is the New Black at Rollins College

By Audrey St. Clair, Rollins College

From renewable energy to alternative transportation to campus-wide recycling programs, a focus on sustainability is woven into the culture at Sullivan Foundation partner school Rollins College. Initiatives like the Sustainability Program, a campus-wide effort focused on infrastructure, and EcoRollins, a student-focused, event-based organization, form the backbone of Rollins’ commitment to preserving the campus community and beyond.

“Thousands of plastic bottles, straws and containers have been prevented from entering landfills because of our combined efforts here on campus,” says Ellie Rushing, a double major in environmental studies and communication studies and co-leader of the Sustainability Program with environmental studies major Gabbie Buendia. “Students are more conscious about what they eat and throw into garbage and recycling bins, and they will take that information and those habits with them when they leave Rollins and teach others.”

The Princeton Review selected Rollins for its annual Green Guide based on academic offerings, campus policies, initiatives, activities, and career preparation for students. Here’s a closer look at why the experts agree that Rollins continues to serve as a model for environmental stewardship.

  1. Rollins has its own EcoHouse on campus. This spot on the back side of Elizabeth Hall—complete with five single rooms, one double, a common room, and bathroom—overlooks Lake Virginia and houses Sustainability Program coordinators and members of EcoRollins who care for the space. They participate in gardening, road and lake cleanups, planned events such as Earth Day and America Recycles Day, and environmental and sustainable education on campus.
  2. You can ditch four wheels for two. Rollins’ bike-share program is in its ninth year of providing bicycles for rent to students, faculty and staff. Currently, there are 44 bikes in the fleet with a mix of cruiser and road bikes, many of which were abandoned and then restored by members of the Sustainability Program. Bikes can be checked out at the Olin Library for three-day rentals.
  3. The recycling program goes beyond bottles and cans. Students in the Sustainability Program—which is overseen by program coordinator Ann Francis—continually collaborate with Rollins’ Facilities department to monitor recycling bins and signage in residence halls, administration buildings and classrooms. In 2017, Rollins removed all plastic bags as a result of a student-driven no-plastic campaign and has subsequently eradicated Styrofoam from campus. The Habitat for Humanity Book Drive promotes reusing and recycling by collecting old books from students during exam week.
  4. Rollins’ environmental studies department was one of the first in the country. Environmental studies professor Barry Allen founded Rollins’ environmental studies department in 1982. For 20-plus years, he has been leading students like Angelo Villagomez, a senior officer with PEW Charitable Trusts, and Tyler Kartzinel, a conservation biology professor at Brown, on field studies to Costa Rica, giving them an up-close, hands-on look at one of the world leaders in conservation and national parks.
  5. No more straws means solving big problems.Turns out those little tubes of convenience aren’t biodegradable, so Rollins has taken steps to eliminate all plastic straws. Environmentally friendly options like pasta straws and paper straws are now available at the different dining locations around campus.

    Photo by Curtis Shaffer

  6. Rollins is a Fair Trade campus.In fact, Rollins became Florida’s first designated Fair Trade campus in 2013. From the Rice Family Bookstore and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum to Dining Services and even Athletics (think Fair Trade balls at soccer practice), Rollins is committed to purchasing environmentally sustainable products that don’t come from sweatshops or child labor and actively educates students about the sustainability issues involved in global commerce.
  7. Farm-to-table has never been so close.Rollins’ on-campus student-run organic farm started as an independent study project aimed at educating students about health and larger issues of how food is produced, transported, sold, and cooked. Andrew Lesmes—along with the help of academic advisors and volunteers—turned a 968-square-foot patch of earth behind Elizabeth Hall into a self-sustaining microfarm that provides homegrown grub to Sodexo, operators of the College’s dining hall.
  8. You can minor in sustainable development. Connecting environmental studies to business, this unique program examines how development and conservation can be intrinsically linked to ensure the protection of Earth’s vital natural systems. Pair the minor with a major in international business or economics or social entrepreneurship for a powerhouse combo.
  9. The Bush Science Center is both high-tech and energy-efficient. This state-of-the-art facility features multiple heat-recovery wheels that allow the school to save up to 70 percent of the energy associated with heating, cooling and dehumidification.
  10. Reusable dining containers make it easy to do your part.The Sustainability Program partnered with Dining Services to implement the OZZI system, which is designed to reduce disposable waste through the use of sustainable, reusable containers at dining locations across campus. Dining Services also gives a reusable cup discount and extends its sustainability commitment to using Green Seal-certified cleaning products, cage-free eggs and certified sustainable seafood.
  11. Hydration stations can be found at every turn. These conveniently placed water stations have saved almost 2,500,000 plastic water bottles since 2012. Dining Services’ latest initiative is to remove all plastic water bottles from campus by the end of 2019.

    Photo by Scott Cook

  12. Going green takes many forms. Students like Morgan Laner can start their own program like EcoReps. This campus initiative, currently managed by Lauren Oxendine and Gabbie Buendia, is devoted to training and recruiting student leaders focused on sustainability. Students can also join the Committee on Environmental and Sustainable Issues (CESI), which advises college leadership on concerns related to sustainable development, environmental impact, biodiversity and environmental justice. Or they can take a community engagement course like Strategies for Changemakers and discover how to improve the environment right in their backyard.
  13. Year-round events and activities keep environmental engagement turned up to an 11. From lake cleanups and e-waste drives to clothing swaps and food-waste audits, there’s always an opportunity to take a small step toward big change. Since fall 2017, for example, Rollins has stopped 4,881 pounds of electronic waste from entering landfills and polluting the environment.

An Eye for Beauty

As a photographer, Amber Merklinger has an eye for beauty. And like any artist, she often sees it in places others would miss.

So when she learned about creative placemaking—using local arts and culture to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood or town—during the Sullivan Foundation’s Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Chattanooga in March 2019, she quickly recognized its power to transform a struggling community. Now Merklinger—who earned her degree this spring in Health Communications and Public Relations at Campbell University (CU)—and a group of fellow CU students and recent graduates are working on a creative placemaking project of their own: Campbell CREATE, aimed at helping communities in the CU area discover and celebrate their own cultural advantages and heritage.

Campbell Create members Michelle Vazquez and Jonathan Molai (photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

CREATE stands for Community Relationships, Encouragement, Art, Tradition and Empowerment. In addition to Merklinger, team members include Jonathan Molai, Cassie Burgett, Jaden Grimes, Adrian Dailey, Carolina Rosado, Michelle Vazquez, Danielle Holquist, and Dylan Andrews. Campbell CREATE’s mission: “To engage and involve the community members surrounding Campbell University in order to strengthen social capital and community involvement while also enhancing the culture found there. We hope to do this by involving the community in beautifying the campus and the surrounding towns to bring in more business and to bring more people out of their homes and into the community.”

The initiative—and the excitement the students bring to it—illustrate how Sullivan Foundation events empower college students to channel their youthful energy, ambitions and ideas into positive action. “Students always walk away with an expanded view of what’s possible for their future career paths,” said Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement and Field Trip and Ignite Retreat leader. “These trips give students a sense of the multiple ways in which they may package their passions into concrete careers past college.”

Amber Merklinger and fellow students from Campbell University founded Campbell Create after the Sullivan Foundation’s field trip to Chattanooga last spring. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

Changemaking in Chattanooga
This spring’s Field Trip took dozens of students to 10 social enterprises and nonprofits tackling a wide variety of issues around Chattanooga. Among many stops, Field Trip participants visited Mad Priest Coffee Company, which works with displaced individuals and employs refugees while educating the community about social injustice and humanitarian crises; the Chattanooga Mobile Market, a mobile grocery store that brings fresh, healthy food and produce to underserved neighborhoods; the Glass House Collective, an organization focused on revitalizing Chattanooga’s historic Glass Street area; and Co.Starters, which helps communities build vibrant entrepreneurial and cultural ecosystems.

The Spring Field Trip included a tour of Chattanooga social enterprise Mad Priest Coffee. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

The CU students’ experiences at Glass House Collective and Co.Starters in particular opened their eyes to the possibilities of creative placemaking, according to Merklinger and Molai.

“I had never heard of that term until I went on this field trip,” Merklinger said, “but it inspired us to start the process of emulating this concept on our own campus and in our surrounding communities. They took an issue they saw in the community and found a solution that impacted everyone in the city, bringing life to a culture not easily seen. That’s the kind of thinking I wish to apply to my future endeavors as a social entrepreneur.”

Artwork in Chattanooga’s Glass Street district inspired the creative placemaking efforts of the Campbell CREATE team. (Photo by Michelle Vazquez)

Molai, who graduated from CU this spring with a Biology Pre-Med degree, was equally inspired. “I am always seeking experiences which add value to my life and further my goals of effecting meaningful social change,” he said. “On this trip, I was able to commingle with students from other majors and schools, all with an interest in community development and social entrepreneurship … It truly was inspiring to see other successful social entrepreneurs making positive changes for the community.”

Uniting Communities Through Culture
After the Field Trip, the CU students hatched the idea for Campbell CREATE, based on the Co.Starters Canvas model, on their ride home from Chattanooga, Molai said. Back at CU, the young changemakers quickly went to work. “As inspired by the visions of Glass House Collective, we have been marshaling our unique strengths as leaders on our campus to stimulate community engagement and economic growth,” Molai said. “In the time between the Field Trip and the Spring Ignite Retreat, we had self-organized, successfully pitched at two innovation challenge-type pitch contests hosted by the Lundy Fetterman School of Business, and begun to build a critical mass of campus and community support after launching our first prototype.”

The team also made its first presentation to the mayor and board of aldermen of Coats, N.C., on May 9, who approved their request to work with the Coats Beautification Committee in a creative placemaking initiative.

Field Trip students take a break after visiting social entrepreneurs in Chattanooga. (Photo by Diamonique Anderson)

Campbell CREATE will use creative placemaking to help small communities spur economic growth through local arts and culture. They plan to recruit artists and craftspersons to create murals and statues as well as decorative benches, swings, tables and chairs in public areas, showcasing local talent and building a sense of hometown pride. “We all agree we want to capture the expressionism, dreams and culture that so deeply enrich the communities surrounding Campbell University,” Merklinger says.

Each community has its own problems to solve, but that’s not the focus of Campbell Create, Merklinger points out. “Like the Glass House Collective, we don’t feel it is our place to fix these issues, but instead to amplify the cultures found there in order to bring the community together.”

Flipping the Script
Prior to the Spring 2019 Field Trip, Merklinger had attended the Fall 2018 Ignite Retreat in Black Mountain, N.C. She learned about the Sullivan Foundation when Marshall spoke about social entrepreneurship to CU’s School of Nursing. That first encounter, she said, “had such a huge impact on me that I wanted to become more involved with the organization. I was also attracted to the Field Trip because I was enrolled in a class centered on discovering underserved communities, and I felt it would correlate well with my class. I was informed that the businesses we would be visiting were run by social entrepreneurs who had made a positive difference in their community, despite the difficulties they faced. I wanted to get a closer look at how their entrepreneurs did this and how I could learn from their example.”

After experiencing the Spring Field Trip to Chattanooga, Jonathan Molai and his teammates fine-tuned their concept for Campbell CREATE at the Spring Ignite Retreat. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

Merklinger, Molai and other Campbell CREATE team members went on to attend the Spring 2019 Ignite Retreat, where they worked with facilitators to further develop their concept. “Being able to directly build on this initiative in the project track at the Ignite Retreat proved incredibly useful for myself and our team in our sharpened consideration of priorities and learning points,” Molai noted.

Merklinger said she would recommend the Field Trip, Ignite Retreat and other Sullivan events to any college student looking to help others without trying to solve their problems for them.

“When you walk into a city or town and see issues such as poverty, low incomes, lack of healthcare, violence, and a variety of other problems, what is your natural instinct?” she said. “Do you want to run away and forget you’ve ever been there? Or do you want to fix their issues and completely flip the script? If you would choose the latter, this field trip is for you. But instead of ‘fixing their issues,’ how would you like to take a creative approach in learning how to walk alongside the community members and create positive change?”

“Sometimes we go through life and become so engrossed in our passions or ideas—or blinded by the negativity we see—that we miss the beauty of the communities right in front of us,” Merklinger added. “The Sullivan Field Trip gives students new and fresh perspectives on how you can implement change in different areas that you’ve come across in life. Some of the approaches these businesses take would be solutions you may never have thought would solve the issues the communities are facing and, thus, engage your creative and critical thinking skills. This trip will ignite in you the desire to think outside the box in order to go beyond the superficial and to dig deep into the heart of the community in order to help those around you. So, do I think this trip is worth going on? I do 100 percent.”

Field Trip attendees learned how Mobile Market, a mobile grocery store in Chattanooga, caters to underserved communities. (Photo by Jonathan Molai)

Born to Heal

Working in a hospice isn’t for the faint-hearted, but for Bradley Firchow, the 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner at Oglethorpe University, it was an opportunity not to ruminate on the vagaries of fate, but to celebrate the remarkable lives of the patients under his care.

Firchow, who graduated this spring with a degree in biopsychology, volunteered at the Crossroads Hospice in Atlanta for four years. The Russellville, Kentucky, native spent hours at a time with chronically ill and elderly people nearing the ends of their earthly tenure. And he found beauty and significance in every moment.

“This work has been particularly meaningful to me as I have been able to spend quality time with folks who may not have family nearby or, in some case, no family at all,” Firchow said. “It has allowed me to share my loves of visual art, music and literature with my patients, which can be very therapeutic for them as they grapple with mortality.”

It was also a chance to collect and record the stories they have to tell for future generations. “My favorite was working on the Life Journal Project, which documents significant events, places, stories and people in a person’s life and preserves them for their family in the form of a hardbound book,” Firchow said. “Spending hours with patients learning their life stories can be transformative for them as they reflect on a lifetime. I value my time with my patients as their stories often offer bits of wisdom for me that I can incorporate into my life and my approach to living.”

A History of Service
After his freshman year, Firchow and a group of fellow students spent nine days in the mountains of Nicaragua, serving 1,000-plus patients in rural communities in a clinical praxis for Global Brigades, a nonprofit focused on sustainable health and economic development.

“As volunteers, we filled prescriptions under the supervision of a pharmacist, assisted the medical professionals, took patient histories, did triage, provided childcare during doctor’s appointments, and worked with community organizers to strengthen public health infrastructure in the communities we served,” Firchow said. “We also constructed eco-latrines, concrete flooring in houses and a water pipeline in La Corneta so people have access to indoor plumbing, can prevent exposure to soil parasites in their homes, and have access to potable water.”

Firchow led two Alternative Spring Break excursions—one to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to perform invasive species maintenance, environmental cleanup and trail-blazing for the Florida National Scenic Trail system, and one to Charlotte, N.C., to work with LGBTQ+ youth organizations after the state passed HB2, a law many see as discriminatory against gay and transgender individuals.

And because he apparently still didn’t have enough to do, Firchow volunteered at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) through the Phi Delta Epsilon International Medical Fraternity. “My fraternity facilitates art projects with the kids,” Firchow said. “We also annually host an Anatomy Fashion Show as a benefit for CHOA. We find models on campus who wear spandex and have an organ system painted on their bodies by art students. Then they walk down a runway, modeling their organ system, as a member of my fraternity reads a narrative about the system and, sometimes, a child at CHOA who has a disease relevant to that system.”

A Passion for Rural Health
Looking at his record of service, Firchow clearly has a career in medicine in mind.
“My passion is rural health,” he said. Growing up in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and West Virginia “exposed me to the difficulties of accessing quality healthcare in the U.S. Geographic and socioeconomic factors determine what level of healthcare a person will receive and, despite the incredible advances in modern medicine and public health, many people have poor access to care—and even when they have access, the care available in their community is limited.”

After graduation, Firchow went to work for Atlanta’s Childspring International, which provides life-saving surgeries for children from developing communities. He plans to attend medical school in Fall 2021 and practice medicine in a rural community. “After medical school, I’m interested in CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service program so I can gain boots-on-the-ground sensibilities and approach medicine from a public health perspective early on in my career,” he said. “I think it’s imperative that physicians incorporate public health philosophy into their practice of medicine, and I want to set the tone for my career in medicine early on. Later in life, I would be interested in running for political office or perhaps working for a public health agency or NGO.”

Firchow said he was floored to receive the Sullivan Award. “At Oglethorpe, it’s one of the highest awards a student can receive, so when our provost announced my name, my jaw must have been somewhere beneath my feet. I was honored to be recognized for doing work that I try not to make a big fuss about—and that, honestly, I didn’t even know other people knew that I do. Receiving the award reinforces my passion to tackle issues I care about that affect people I care about.”

The Right Track

Growing up in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Joey Jennings dealt with racism and poverty every day throughout his youth. Now the recent Winthrop University graduate, winner of the school’s prestigious 2019 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, is on his way to earning his Ph.D., thanks to a highly coveted Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Jennings was one of only three sociology undergraduates nationwide to receive the fellowship, which provides him with a full ride at the University of Maryland-College Park. But the scholar-athlete, who holds two Winthrop records as a track star, had to clear major hurdles to get to where he is today.

“Why Do They Hate Me?”
Playing on a Little League football team introduced Jennings to the harsh reality of racism when he was only nine years old. He didn’t see himself as different from any of his teammates—until someone referred to him with a racial slur.

“I vividly remember asking my dad, ‘Why do they hate me?’” he said. “He stood up for me and put a stop to the name calling, but it did not ease my heart. I was able to grasp that the reason I was treated differently was related to my skin tone. As a result, I was not proud of my color for a long time.”

Joey Jennings set new records for the indoor and outdoor pole vault at Winthrop University and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

Jennings “fully experienced rock bottom” in Jefferson City. In addition to the heavy racial tension, his family struggled with poverty, sometimes not having enough food on the table or going days without electricity. “Then, everything got more difficult when I witnessed my mother being taken to jail numerous times because of her losing battles with cocaine addiction,” he said. “We struggled, it was tough, but my family is strong. My dad raised my siblings and I to fight, and that made me the man I am today.”

“It is because I have witnessed numerous types of adversity and injustice, or a lack of proper justice, firsthand that I want to further my academic career in sociology and engage in social research with the hopes that I can uncover social injustice,” he added.

Jennings wanted to understand the questions from his past and felt that the sociology program’s criminology concentration would help him do just that; specifically, it would sate his appetite for research. He also signed on to compete in track and field at the Division I level.

Studying Police Brutality
For one of his research projects, Jennings examined police brutality over a 23-year period through a public opinion survey. The survey asked participants for responses to racial relations after the Rodney King incident (1991) and the Freddie Gray incident (2015). He then reached out to Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts after reading Pitts’ series on what people can do to help and studied online newspaper comments referencing the Baltimore riots.

“The analysis showed that, during the 23-year period between the observed riots, public opinions on prejudice were related to systematic discrimination practices that led to marginalization of inner-city minority communities,” Jennings explained. “In turn, these communities find in riots an opportunity to bring public awareness to their constant criminalization, invisibility in the criminal justice system and marginalization.”

While simultaneously taking 14 credit hours, practicing track 20 hours a week and competing almost every weekend, he presented his research at the Southern Sociological Society Conference and Winthrop’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors. He also spent the summer of 2018 at the NSF research program at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, researching Charlotte’s homicide hotspots with a group and presenting at UNC-C’s symposium and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association.

The Best at Both
Along the way, Jennings set new records for Winthrop’s indoor and outdoor pole vault and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.  “It takes a lot of dedication to my crafts,” Jennings said. “School and track are equally important to me, but early on, I learned that to be great in both I had to treat them as separate entities. When I was at class, what happened at the track, good or bad, had to be out of my mind and vice versa. I spent hours studying for class and for track. I wanted to be the best in both, so I gave all I had each day to everything. That is how I was raised.”

After graduating from Winthrop this past May, Jennings now looks to the future. “I know I want to make a difference; I want to enact change,” he said. “The Ph.D. is a start for me to work as an activist, to create change, and to shine an academic light on social issues that have been dark for some time now. I love learning, and I want to use my strengths to help marginalized people and answer the questions I faced as a youth.”

This story was adapted from an article by Nicole Chisari, communications coordinator at Winthrop University.


Letter From the President – Sullivan Campuses, Study Abroad Edinburgh and More

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Sullivan Foundation network, and I’d like to take this opportunity to provide a glimpse into what the future holds for our organization and partner colleges and universities. I’m especially pleased to announce that we have officially designated two partner schools – Mary Baldwin University and Campbell University – as the first Sullivan Campuses. This new designation is awarded to those schools with a strong track record of community service and engagement. We look forward to welcoming more partners into this program as it grows and evolves.

We’re also excited to announce the launch of our new Study Abroad Edinburgh Program next June in Scotland’s historic capital city, which hosted the 2018 Social Enterprise World Forum. Participating students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Edinburgh’s thriving social-venture sector, develop their entrepreneurial and leadership skills, and earn six hours of credit in this unique four-week program.

Speaking of social entrepreneurship, our partner schools can now take advantage of the new Sullivan Speakers Bureau, a “dream team” of social-innovation facilitators, speakers and entrepreneurs who are ready and eager to help ignite change on campuses across the Sullivan network. Partner schools can use approved Sullivan Foundation funds to bring these experienced changemakers to their campuses to talk about topics ranging from economic and community development and entrepreneurship to environmental sustainability, media and technology, and social justice.

Finally, we’re also proud to unveil the Sullivan Foundation’s List of Awesome, an online resource space designed to help aspiring social innovators and entrepreneurs set out on their journey to build a better world. Visit to explore a wide-ranging list of changemaking events, funding opportunities, social innovation hubs, tools and guides, and more.

As you can see, the 2019-20 school year will be an eventful one for the Foundation. To learn more about how to get involved in the above-mentioned programs, please email us at Meanwhile, I hope you will enjoy this new issue of Engage and share your own stories with us for possible coverage in future editions. We look forward to hearing from you.

Moving Mountains

From the Hatfields and McCoys to the once-thriving coal mines that helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, rural Appalachia has a rich and storied history—and a troubled, uncertain future. Vast swaths of the region are mired in poverty and joblessness. Its inhabitants are more likely to die of heart disease and cancer than the average American. And while doctors are few and far between in many counties, Vicodin and Lortab are all too easy to come by.

While many gaze out at the strip-mined Appalachian landscape and see a “big white ghetto” (to borrow a term from the National Review), Dr. Sharon Perot, Professor David Hite and their team at the Appalachian Summit Center (ASC) see opportunities for economic empowerment and innovative people willing to work hard for a better life. Thanks to the power of social entrepreneurship, there’s still gold in them thar hills, they believe, and you don’t have to tear down the mountains to mine it.

Dr. Sharon Perot developed the Appalachian Summit Center for her Sullivan Foundation Faculty Fellows project.

Encouraging Startup Communities
Headquartered in Bluefield, Va., the ASC started out as Perot’s Sullivan Faculty Fellows project and became the first initiative of the Campbell University Hub, a network of Sullivan-affiliated schools in the Campbell region that provide programming to promote social entrepreneurship and economic growth. Perot, a professor and interim dean of the Caudill School of Business at Bluefield College, said she launched ASC because she saw “a need to improve the overall community well-being, including health and education. ASC focuses on encouraging startup communities, providing support to agribusinesses and small business growth.”

As they worked on the project, Perot and Hite realized that, although local civic leaders were working to address problems, they knew little about initiatives outside their own agencies or defined scope. “It became clear that collaboration was essential if we were going to help improve the community,” Perot said. “We envisioned a hub or center where businesses, local leaders, regional tourism agencies, workforce development organizations, SBA chapters, economic development directors, and church leaders were able to share their goals and work together to prevent redundancy. As we know, scarce resources necessitate partnerships and a willingness to work together.”

Perot found partners in the academic world through the Sullivan Foundation. At the Fall 2017 Ignite Retreat in Black Mountain, N.C., she and Hite, a Bluefield business professor, met with Dr. John Bartlett, an associate professor of biology at Campbell University (CU), and Sullivan liaison Dan Maynard, the business librarian at CU. “Sharon mentioned her interest in social entrepreneurship as a way to abate the economic and social stress her community in southern Appalachia is experiencing,” Maynard wrote in a document about the project. “She said that tourism and agriculture looked like fertile areas for social entrepreneurship.”

Dr. David Hite

The Bluefield and Campbell colleagues quickly formed a partnership, and Perot introduced the ASC at Sullivan’s Spring 2018 Faculty Summit in Raleigh, N.C. Its goal: “Identify opportunities that build collaborative, innovative solutions that create social and economic value in Southwest Virginia and West Virginia.” Designed to serve as a model for other rural Christian colleges, the ASC “uses education, research and hands-on projects to strengthen individuals and organizations so that they may build a more prosperous Appalachia.”

Opportunities in Entrepreneurship
And there’s plenty of work to be done. As a 2019 report from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) shows, Appalachia’s poverty rate, while showing some signs of improvement, remains higher than the U.S. average, with many counties moving in a negative direction or stuck in the “distressed” category. The region also outpaces the nation in mortality due to medical issues like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and suicide while lagging behind in the number of healthcare professionals, according to a 2017 ARC report.

The decline of the coal industry has played a major role in the region’s economic woes. A 2018 ARC study found Appalachian coal production declined by nearly 45 percent between 2005 and 2015—more than double the rate of national decline. Coal industry employment in the region decreased by around 27 percent, with Central Appalachia taking the hardest hit.

But tunneling through the mountains for coal isn’t the only way to create jobs and prosperity. Thanks to an abundance of sugar maple trees, the Central and Southern Appalachian region has the potential to rival New England in maple sugar production.

“Our maple trees outnumber Vermont’s, and we have all witnessed the success that industry has brought to Vermont,” Perot noted. “We also have several small mountain farms capable of producing a healthy living. In addition, there has been a tremendous increase in adventure tourism, which is driving small business growth in the areas of housing and restaurants. And there are hundreds of ATV trails throughout the region—Hatfield-McCoy is just one of the trail systems within a few miles of the ASC.”

The Hatfield-McCoy Trails are a major destination in the adventure tourism sector.

The ASC’s research included an adventure tourism study that identified the need for more restaurants and lodging, resulting in the creation of new lodging (such as tiny houses) and dining establishments. ASC also works with local entrepreneurs interested in leveraging the region’s natural resources, provides coaching and mentoring for startups and assists in small business growth. “Our work includes helping businesses and local leaders define customer value, find ways to differentiate themselves from the competition, and develop profit formulas as well as social media marketing strategies,” Perot said.

Appalachia is also dotted with food deserts, defined by the ARC as low-income areas where many residents don’t have access to vehicles or live more than 20 miles from the nearest supermarket. The ASC team promotes startup agribusinesses that can produce high-quality food, such as McDowell County Farms, a farmers co-op in southern West Virginia. The co-op offers a Community Supported Agriculture program, in which consumers can buy an annual stake to source locally grown food, and provides produce to food banks and grocery stores in struggling communities.

Opioid addiction is another vexing problem in Appalachia—one recent CBS report ranked West Virginia as the deadliest state for drug overdoses. The ASC provides support for recovering addicts who are passionate about social change and entrepreneurial opportunities. ASC worked with one group, Mountain Movers, to develop Launch Recovery, a business pitch competition for individuals in the recovery community, with startup money and free business services awarded to the winners. “We believe the coaching and training we are offering provide a structure and process to help individuals stay focused and move forward toward a healthier lifestyle,” Perot said.

McDowell County Farms sells produce at a regional farmers market.

Building Trust
Meanwhile, getting young people involved in the community is essential to revitalizing Appalachia. In addition to collaborating with the American Youth Agripreneur Association, Perot and her team launched the ASC’s first summer internship program.

“Social change and innovation begins with community engagement,” Perot said. “Community engagement begins with trust—trust that people care, trust that people are genuine and honest, trust that people are willing to be open to differences and nonjudgmental. The internship is designed around human design theory and Living Learning Communities. Empathy helps design thinkers seek understanding about a particular group of people or community. Learning what is important to them and understanding who they are demonstrates caring, which leads to trust.”

In the program’s inaugural year, student interns worked within Living Learning Communities in the Bluefield area, developed their teamwork, leadership and followership skills, and took part in experiential learning activities. They visited local agribusinesses, art studios, small businesses and startups to learn about the challenges faced by entrepreneurs and how to use their own talents to bring about social change.

“They discover that community identity is often shaped by facts and statistics that lead to generalities,” Perot said. “Facts about income, age, education levels, family structure, health statistics, crime rates, etc. may not accurately characterize the culture or people. Natural resources, anchor institutions such as churches, agencies and schools, and community leaders are seemingly not included in the community story. They discover that communities are often richer than the story being told in the news or by the facts. They discover how they can make a difference.”

ASC’s first group of summer interns visits an art makerspace in Bluefield, Va.

ASC has also lent support to a student-run art makerspace in Bluefield that will bring older and younger residents together. “The goal is to renovate a downtown building into a student-run skills makerspace for the community with a significant focus on art,” Hite said. “The initiative seeks to create partnerships with the seniors in the regions who have various talents, such as art, woodworking and other hands-on skills.”

The co-working space will include young entrepreneurs, skilled laborers and ASC team members. “Interns will assist with business startups, one-on-one business mentoring for new entrepreneurs and operations of the facility,” Hite said. “Based on the feedback I received from the town manager and mayor, they loved the idea and strongly support the project, which also has the verbal backing of over 20 seniors in the community and many artists and business owners.”

Achieving real social change can feel like moving mountains, so to speak, and tough challenges lie ahead for the ASC team. But for Perot, it’s a personal and spiritual mission. “ASC is my way of serving others,” she said. “I believe God endows each of us with unique gifts and talents, and it’s up to us to develop them in order to serve the needs of others. This part of our country continues to be neglected by state and federal agencies. False promises are made about a resurgence of coal mining, and there’s a lack of research in the area of poverty in the U.S.”

But the people of Appalachia will do whatever it takes to bring about real change. “Living in this community, I’ve witnessed service to others, selfless leadership, generosity, compassion, and ingenuity, despite growing health issues, increasing addiction rates and limited resources,” Perot said. “I’m motivated by the community leaders committed to making improvements and by the belief that I have some of the talents and abilities needed to make a difference in the lives of others in need.”


Legal Eagles

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation might not have brought Amanda and Jim Manning together as a couple, but the man for whom it was named has loomed large in both attorneys’ lives ever since they were college students.

For Amanda, who graduated summa cum laude from Campbell University in 2012, Mr. Sullivan was an inspirational figure as she pursued a career dedicated to creating a more just and ethical society. “I took the honor of receiving the Sullivan Scholarship very seriously,” said Amanda, who earned her bachelor’s degree in English before receiving her J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law. “I remember learning about Algernon Sydney Sullivan and posting information about him and his legacy on the wall over my desk at Campbell, and I continued to remind myself of his legacy as a law student. I did this as a motivation to keep moving forward as I studied, both as an undergraduate and as a law student, because I did not want to let him down and wanted to use my education and talents to help others as a productive, contributing member of society.”

Today, Amanda continues Mr. Sullivan’s legacy. Just as he once served as an assistant district attorney, she is currently a prosecutor in the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office on Long Island, New York, one of the largest D.A. offices in the U.S.

this photo shows Amanda Manning as a scholar

Amanda Manning, a Sullivan Foundation scholarship recipient, graduated summa cum laude from Campbell University in 2012.

The Sullivan Ideal
Amanda was studying law at UNC when she met Jim Manning, then a law student at the University of Virginia School of Law. Jim had his own Sullivan connection—he had earned the Sullivan Award while an undergraduate double-majoring in Math and Statistics at the University of South Carolina. Like Amanda, whom he married in 2015, he graduated summa cum laude and had a passion for justice and community service.

Also like Amanda, Jim’s connection to Sullivan didn’t end with the award. He is presently a Litigation Associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York, the law firm founded by the foundation’s namesake in 1879.

“Winning the Sullivan Award was the highlight of my time at South Carolina,” Jim recalls. “Unlike Campbell, we did not have a Sullivan Scholarship, and the Sullivan Award was billed as the award given to the top male and female graduate each year based on academic performance, service and moral character. I remember how nervous I was at Awards Day my senior year, waiting for the announcement. It was such an honor to be selected by the faculty for that most prestigious award, and I have displayed the medallion on my desk ever since.”

Both Jim and Amanda lived up to the Sullivan Foundation ideal as servant leaders in their undergraduate and law school years. As a Student Government senator and Chief Justice of the Constitutional Council at USC, Jim said, “I fought to ensure that the Finance Codes retained a non-discrimination clause, further promoted equality by sponsoring legislation amending the role of a senator to include protecting the rights of all students, and proposed a series of amendments to revitalize the Constitutional Council.”

Jim Manning earned the Sullivan Award at the University of South Carolina, where he also graduated summa cum laude.

As president of the Residence Hall Association, he worked directly with hall governments to plan charities benefiting groups including a local food bank, women’s shelters and the American Cancer Society. “At every juncture,” Jim said, his passion for politics, service and leadership afforded him “the chance to support others in pursuing their passions.”

Community service was a major part of Amanda’s student life as well. She also served on the Student Government Association at CU and as chapter president of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society. Her strong interest in ethics—she completed her Honors thesis on Emmanuel Kant’s deontological (duty-based) ethics—led her to a career in criminal law and her current position in the Nassau County D.A. Office’s Appeals Bureau. Amanda primarily works on appeals taken by defendants who have been adjudicated guilty, arguing cases before appellate courts such as the Appellate Division, Second Department, in New York City.

“I found criminal law particularly interesting,” she said, “because it’s an area where ethical lawyering is of especially great importance and where prosecutors are charged with the special task of working toward public safety while doing so in a fair and just manner. During law school, I supplemented my studies by working as a comparative criminal law research assistant for a professor at the law school and as an intern at a district attorney’s office in North Carolina.” Through these experiences, Amanda came to appreciate “that a prosecutor’s discretion about whether to bring charges and how to pursue them plays a critical role in seeking and serving justice for victims of crime and society as a whole.”

For his part, Jim first learned about Sullivan & Cromwell when he won the Sullivan Award at USC—and he never forgot about it. Upon graduating from law school, he was drawn to Sullivan & Cromwell “in part due to the fact that Mr. Sullivan established the firm,” he said.

Like its founder, Sullivan & Cromwell is committed to giving back to society, Jim noted. “An important aspect of being an attorney is providing pro bono legal services to those who cannot afford access to a lawyer,” Jim said. The firm last year devoted more than 63,000 hours to pro bono service, and Jim himself has argued two appeals cases before the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division—the same court in which Amanda practices—on a pro bono basis. “In my experience,” he said, “Sullivan & Cromwell is committed to public service and honors Mr. Sullivan’s legacy.”