OK, so it wasnt OprahsBig Give,but it was still big enough to make a huge impression on West Virginia University senior Kelly Brennan.
This was such a meaningful class for me,said Brennan, a management major in the College of Business and Economics.
Theres no other class like it really,the Pottsville, Pa., native said.Its one of those classes that you never forget because you have to really get out there in society. Its in the business school, but its a class about people.
People, specifically, who do good works for others.
Brennan is talking about the College of B&Es Corporate Citizenship Project, a unique course offering that blends altruism and academics as it aims to redefine the bottom line.
Heres how it works: The class is given $20,000 to dole out to service agencies across the region. Its not as easy as it sounds. Organizations from food pantries to child advocate agencies petition the class, much like they would their local United Way or any other establishment that distributes dollars for a cause.
With their hat in hand, they all bring compelling stories and a noble mission, course instructor Joyce Heames said, and they are all definitely aware of the project. This semester alone, 34 requests came in at more than $200,000.
Make that $202,372 to be exact.
But remember, the class didnt nearly have that in its coffers. And that, Heames said, is the crux of the courseapproaching the problem of helping the community on a limited budget and making the hard decisions needed.
Its a challenge giving away money,Heames said.They found that out pretty quickly.
That was the idea B&E benefactor Robert Reitman had in mind seven years ago when he provided the funds to start the course at the college he graduated from in 1955.
Blending public service with professional pursuits came naturally for Reitman, who is now retired after a successful business career in Cleveland. He was always personally pitching in on evenings and weekends to help out with community causes.
He made sure the businesses he was involved with did the same thing.
Along the way, he found plenty of other companies that wanted to do that, too. Trouble was, as he remembered during a recent visit back to WVU to look in on the class, they didnt always know how to go about it.
Really, in a perfect world, youd keep doing in adulthood what you started in kindergarten,he said.I met a lot of good people who had the desire to be helpful, but they just didnt have the mechanics to get started.
The Corporate Citizen Project is both the owners guide and how-to manual.
Each proposal got its own workup, from an official charting of its track record over the years to a projection of future successor failurebased on that record. Using all the business practices theyve learned to date at B&E, students also projected the impact a grant might have on day-to-day operations.
As part of the course requirement, students also logged 30 hours of volunteer work at the nonprofit agency of their choice.
While that effort put a human face on the whole thing, it also brought more focus to the corporate side of giving, Brennans classmate Greer Bailey said.
I learned to respect companies in their decisionmaking,said Bailey, a management senior from Charleston.It is difficult to only choose a few organizations you can help and also be charged with doing what is best for your company. The stress and time constraint make each decision a difficult one.
The payoff, though, makes the struggle worth it, Brennan said.
Its such a great feeling to know that youre helping, he said.I got so much out of this class, and now I get to give something back.
The class this week presented its grants. Here are the recipients:
Paws for People: $7,600 to purchase and train two dogs to assist disabled people with daily tasks
Big Brothers/Big Sisters: $2,400 funding for a match of a child with a big brother or sister and four months of activities
The Alzheimers Association: $825 funding for an educational program
Make-A-Wish Foundation: $2,100 to supply gift bags for children in pediatric and neonatal units during Christmas 2008 and Easter 2009
Court-Appointed Special Advocates for Kids (CASA): $2,100 to recruit and train volunteers to assist children from abusive homes
Milan Puskar Health Right Clinic: $300 to purchase a Vulcon Clinaseal Centrifuge
Scotts Run Settlement House: $825 to fund Step-out computer software to assist low-income clients in job-readiness training
Mountain Heart Foundation: $1,350 funding to two youngsters to attend the camp for children with heart disease and defects
Monongalia County Child Advocacy Center: $2,500 to support the training program for advocates on staff