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The people of CLAS know that every little bit helps
As the economy travels down a bumpy road with unemployment rates at all-time highs, many across the globe are in need of help as they find themselves without food and shelter. During these times of great unrest, there has arisen a selective few who have taken up the cause of the less fortunate. At the University of Florida, a new breed of leader dedicated to public service has been born.
Dr. Ed Kellerman reminisces on his parents' volunteering their expertise in eye care for rural tribesmen across Kenya. It was their devotion to the African people that instilled in him and his brother, Phil, a lifelong dedication to public service.
As a senior lecturer in the Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication in CLAS, Ed and Phil Kellerman are embarking on a new course: Nonprofit Leadership. The duo has developed this team-teaching program courtesy of a grant from the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. With special topics in nonprofit leadership and management, the course comes complete with a lecture series as well as real-world experience to prepare students for entry into the nonprofit sector. Currently the program has 18 students from a variety of backgrounds such as agriculture, business and liberal arts. Even members of the student organization Heal the World, which raises money for international and domestic projects, participate in the program.
The two nonprofit organizations the program focuses on are the Harvest of Hope Foundation, which helps migrant farm workers, and Project Nepal, which runs the Nabha Deepti School for orphaned schoolchildren in Kathmandu. Ed Kellerman serves on the board of both organizations. For the Harvest of Hope Foundation, the Kellerman brothers managed to bring together 141 bands, including Less Than Jake and Against Me!, for a benefit concert at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds in St. Augustine, Florida. With more than 17,000 attendees, the three-day event was a great success.
Over the years Kellerman has helped Harvest of Hope to raise more than $600,000, but with the onslaught of a down-turned economy, donations have experienced a slow decline.
"At the grassroots level, students are still contributing," Kellerman said.
This is evidenced by the $450 recently raised by Harvest of Hope during a fundraising event at The Atlantic, a Gainesville social club. On the larger levels, donations are being delayed as corporations feel the economic crunch.
Kellerman believes better leadership is needed in today's students and that the corporate world could stand to benefit from the skills students develop.
Carolyn M. Tucker
Born to a family that didn't have much, Department of Psychology professor Dr. Carolyn M. Tucker grew up in a small Virginia town with plenty of culture--and high cholesterol.
"For African-Americans, food is a way of expressing ourselves and our love and affection," Tucker said.
Yet, for Tucker, who once weighed more than 200 pounds, at what point did the price of comfort become too much?
With this question in mind, Tucker launched the Family Health Self-Empowerment Project for Modifying and Preventing Obesity. Funded by a $1.1 million grant from The PepsiCo Foundation, the program teaches children, adolescents and their caregivers in low-income families, how to live healthier lifestyles. More than 600 families across the U.S. will participate in a training program that extends over a two-year period. To calculate the effectiveness of the program, interactive workshops will be tested to give participating families the education and training they need to gain control of their eating habits and better manage their weight.
Another program Tucker has instituted is the Culturally Sensitive Health Care Research Project. Federally funded, the program evaluates whether the affects of providing culturally sensitive healthcare to patients influences their adherence to treatments.
"A passion of mine is conducting research aimed at health promotion and reducing health disparities," Tucker said, "and preparing the next generation of researchers--both minority and majority students--who are committed to minority health and reducing health disparities. If I have any kind of legacy, I hope it will be this research and mentoring. Right now there is such a strong need for both."
In her own research group at UF, she encourages and promotes a culturally diverse working environment. Because of this philosophy, Tucker was awarded UF's first President's Humanitarian Award in 2002. Many students have found Tucker's teachings to be of great benefit to them, and tout her as one of the most influential mentors of the college. That reputation earned her UF's Doctoral Dissertation Advisor and Mentoring Award.
Mike Gunter listened in disbelief to the small voices in front of him as they professed they were upset the school year was coming to an end. He was not shocked because the children claimed they would miss their academic studies. Instead, his shock stemmed from the realization that school was the only place they received a regular meal.
During his time as a volunteer coach at Westwood Middle School and the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County in Gainesville, Florida, Gunter was hit by a harsh reality: there really were children who had no food at home. Armed with a passion and an idea, Gunter approached the Boys and Girls Club and local businesses to address the hunger issues plaguing many children in the community. With this one step, Gunter set in stone his promise to make a difference.
In collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club, Gunter formulated his idea into an organized plan and presented it to the University Athletic Association. As a maintenance mechanic with the UF Department of Biology, Gunter knew he could count on the kindness of UF alumni, the Gator Nation, to help him in his cause.
The UAA embraced the idea. The program, now dubbed the Gator's Canned Good Challenge for Kids, asked fans and others to donate canned foods when attending home games.
"The (women's) basketball team--they have my support forever. Those girls came out and worked their tails off for us," Gunter said. The team not only boxed the various donations, it even went so far as to tote boxes around the stadium to collect more food items.
There was only one problem the volunteers encountered while taking donations. Location. Nestled between the Stephen C. O'Connell Center and front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, many fans found the walk too long to donate. Next year he plans to have various locations around the stadium as a convenience to donors.
The Gator's Canned Good Challenge for Kids managed to collect more than 15,000 pounds of food during UF's 2008 football home games. Of the donations given, the Boys and Girls Club received 200 pounds of food each game. The majority of the donations were reserved for The Bread of the Mighty Food Bank to distribute among the general community. Though most food banks charge a small administrative fee to organizations that use their services, the Boys and Girls Club are glad to be able to offer its pantry at no charge to its members.
With continued success, Gunter hopes to explore more options for spreading word about the program. He hopes to extend the program into more Florida athletic venues, reach out to those who don't attend Gator games and set up donation stations in local businesses to involve the whole community.
When asked if he thought he would ever be able to create such a program, Gunter humbly replied, "No--not really. It just kind of happened. We started out on the wing last year, not knowing what we were doing--We still don't," he laughs, "but we're getting better at it."
Terri Lowery, 2008-2009 President of the Leadership Gainesville Alumni Association, urged board members to brainstorm problematic issues affecting Gainesville. The group wanted to plug into the community as a way of giving back and chose education as its focus.
With help from the School Board of Alachua County, the LGAA chose Rawlings Elementary as the school with the greatest need. To get a better understanding of the school's needs, Lowery and Greg Bradley, of the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, met with school officials to discuss the group's plan. The LGAA proposed ideas to start influential programs in three areas: a speaker series, a mentoring program and a block party.
"This program takes advantage of the diversity of strengths and interests amongst the Leadership Gainesville Alumni," said Dr. Margaret Fields, Assistant Dean in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences--who is both an alumna of Leadership Gainesville and a current board member. She saw this as an opportunity to foster community involvement from an early age.
Since September 2008, guest speakers have presented to Rawlings' third- and fourth-grade classes. The topics have covered issues such as career alternatives, character development and honest discussions about personal issues some of the students face on a day-to-day basis.
The mentoring program consists of 10 mentors who each work with three children. The small groups, affectionately named "Pea Pods," have participants selected by school staff. As a way to develop life skills, the Pea Pods also provide accountability and academic encouragement.
On a grander scale, the LGAA organized its third program: the Rawlings Block Party. The party was created to assist the school in nurturing relationships between staff and parents in the surrounding neighborhood.
"The event definitely had a positive impact in the community," said Candy Taylor, LGAA Board Secretary and co-organizer, "I was pleasantly surprised by the response from the families." The event also provided access to valuable information that would benefit families, and "many parents expressed their gratitude for putting on an event where their families could go, have a good time and obtain valuable information." The valuable information came at a price that all student attendees could afford. Each child had to bring a parent or legal guardian to participate in the activities.
As reports of economic doom and gloom continue to flow out of radios and televisions, there are those who are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Who will be there to help those trapped in the darkness? Fortunately, leaders like Ed Kellerman, Mike Gunter, Carolyn M. Tucker and members of the LGAA have taken notice. Taking up their own brand of torches, these new leaders are taking time to carve paths in the community that help light the way.
Changing the Future
CLAS wants to know what you are doing to change