In 2001 Robert Reitman, a 1955 B&E graduate who became a nonprofit consultant and philanthropist, contacted the College’s dean about a novel way to teach students the importance of community involvement.
Since its inception, more than 200 students have connected with charitable organizations in Monongalia County through The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) course. They learn how volunteerism and corporate philanthropy have an impact on the community through first-hand experiences by providing 30 hours of service to local non-profits.
The students are also educated on giving back to the community through the CSR grant project. The class becomes its own mini foundation and gains skills necessary to distribute grants to non-profits. A former CSR alum, Jeff Janney, said the project provided him a real world experience. “It offers a board room type atmosphere along with a firsthand look into corporate social responsibility,” he commented.
Next spring’s class under the direction of Dr. Joyce Heames, who has lead the class for the past 6 years, will give $20,000 in grants, bringing the total given to more than one-quarter of a million dollars since Reitman’s original idea.
One of Heames’ primary goals was to find ways to make the program self-sustaining through support from alumni, grant writing and local businesses. The first step in 2012 was to create the CSR club, which allowed past students to stay connected and provided them a venue to give back to the class. Or in other words to “pay it forward for future students of the class,” Heames said.
Kayla Kruse, a CSR class alum and now a graduate assistant in her first year of the College’s MSIR program, is working on a grant to partially support the class from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, which serves West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania and supports initiatives in education, economic development, health and human services and community development.
The CSR grant project receives a variety of grant requests from local non-profits. The requests may vary from less than $1,000 to the whole $20,000, and the class has to make the decision on who will receive grants and the amount to be dispersed. Because the Benedum Foundation does not give grants of less than $20,000, Kruse believes the foundation, through the CSR class, could provide a lot of micro-grants in the area while supporting a unique educational experience for WVU students.
“Our main goal is to secure the $20,000 each year to be distributed to the local nonprofits, and once we reach that goal we will continue to find other funds to cover the operating cost,” Kruse said. Last spring the class received project requests for more than $74,000, so it was hard to decide where to direct $20,000 to do the most good, she said. Kruse also recently started a LinkedIn group for the CSR Club, to connect all previous members. She hopes CSR alumni will not only keep in contact with the College and one another, but will continue to support the course by contributing an annual donation of at least $100.
Shelby Paxton, president of the 2013 CSR class, recently sent in her $100. “I believe it is important for all young professionals to learn about social responsibility. It will set us apart and improve the future business environment,” she commented.
A human resources associate with BrickStreet Insurance in Charleston, Paxton said, “I contributed so that other students will have the opportunity to have this amazing experience in and outside of the classroom.” Paxton, who grew up in Saint Albans, W.Va., worked with the American Cancer Society during her CSR course and helped plan WVU's Relay for Life. “I know that it is important that the class becomes self-sufficient and that former students show their support,” she said.
Caitlin Spratt, CSR class 2011, said, “By working with local non-profits in Monongalia County I learned more about what drives these efforts, not just ideologically, but financially as well. I now have a better understanding of how an organization can work together to serve those in need. This knowledge has helped lead to my success in the healthcare industry in believing that by empowering others, we empower ourselves.”
Kruse is also interested in giving more recognition to donors who support the class, which will be helped by the LinkedIn group, she said.
“This class really had an impact on me last spring,” she said. “So I volunteered to help Dr. Heames with the operations of the class when I entered the MSIR program. It’s not only important to the students in the class, but it’s also having an impact in the community. I am very fortunate to be able to continue working with the CSR class.”
Anyone who would like to help Kruse’s efforts can contact her at email@example.com (304) 293-7838 or Dr. Joyce Heames at firstname.lastname@example.org.