food pantry

You Don’t Have to Know Everything to do Something

Mark Pike, August 30, 2023

Being a staff member in higher education can make you feel uninformed, overwhelmed, and cynical. If you’ve been working in higher education since 2020 you’ve likely absorbed at least a portion of your former coworkers’ responsibilities (and they probably left for a corporate gig that doubled their salary and included an amazing work-from-home agreement). Before reading this blog, you might have even skimmed the chancellor’s weekly email that outlined yet another student success initiative. The odds are you were never consulted on this initiative (even though it will require you to change the way you work), doubt it will have much of an effect (like the last four initiatives), and, after reading, you may have even rolled your eyes so hard that you got a brief glimpse at the back of your brain. 

The bad news: the chancellor is not going to stop sending those weekly emails. The good news: it doesn’t have to be this demoralizing! 

We believe that you have the knowledge, the capacity, and the passion to make a real difference in the community where you live and work. Since 2018, CEA has awarded 20 grants, totaling more than $50,000 to staff members (just like you) across Indiana – from Notre Dame to Ivy Tech.  

Surely you have some ideas about how you could join with community partners to generate positive outcomes, right?! 

Maybe you’re passionate about addressing food insecurity like Chelsie Jaramillo. Chelsie worked as the Community Wellness Coordinator for Purdue Extension Madison County for less than five years when she was awarded a Strengthening Communities Grant in 2020. In her final report, she explained how the grant allowed Purdue students to help a local food pantry expand its reach and services. At the same time, the students developed leadership skills, identified useful communication strategies, and created educational materials. In just five months, she and her students developed a communication plan that reached 15,000+ people. During roughly that same time, they helped Operation Love Ministries, The Salvation Army, and Madison County Local Food Network distribute over fifty tons of food to more than 9,000 people.  

While these numbers are staggering, they should not overshadow the effect this project had on the students. Multiple students involved in the project reported a new or renewed belief in the importance of this work. In a reflection paper one student wrote the experience provided her with “deeper respect for the people who are consistently working to better the community,” while another described a desire to “improve the community around me.”  

Maybe food insecurity isn’t a major issue facing your community. Maybe you see the need for healing, education, and dialogue in your community. 

In the wake of the 2020 racial protests, Stephanie Moran did. So, she applied for a Strengthening Communities grant. She used the awarded funds to partner with the City of Anderson and hosted an “MLK Day of Celebration” at Anderson University (AU).  

The celebration included an amazing array of events. Staff, faculty, students, and community members participated in a “Million Steps for Martin March” fundraiser that raised more than $75,000 to support minority groups at AU. Campus and community members gathered to see alumni read original poetry, perform original music, and create a live-art painting as a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech played. Forums invited dialogue on topics ranging from microaggressions to the history of racism and oppression in the United States. Organizers created a video montage of participants reading 180 different picture books (purchased with grant funds) that highlighted the achievements of minority individuals. The books were later donated to local elementary schools.  

The event was a massive success! Community members and campus personnel reported the collaboration to be refreshing and rewarding. Student surveys indicated that their participation in the celebration shifted their attitudes and spurred intellectual development. 

Neither Chelsie nor Stephanie knew everything about the issues they saw facing their communities. But that’s the point – you don’t have to know everything to do something. If you want to partner with us to do something within your community, please visit our grants page.

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