Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies Course Awards $2,000 Grant to East Alabama Mental Health Center

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

The first Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies grantmaking class presented a $2,000 grant to the East Alabama Mental Health Center this week during a ceremony that celebrated students’ months of work to award funding to a local nonprofit focused on improving quality of life in our community.

The course, offered through the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University, is designed to introduce strategic philanthropy and best practices, then allow students to apply those concepts by acting as a grantmaking organization.

Erin Casolaro, a sophomore double majoring in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies and Accounting, said not just learning about nonprofits, but empowering an organization to empower others, made the hard work worth it.

“The most challenging part was evaluating these organizations and having to make those hard decisions about who to move forward with. The most rewarding part was working with these organizations and seeing so much passion for so many different issues,” Casolaro said. “It has been a joy, and also one of the most difficult classes I’ve taken, not on a materials standpoint, but because the impact is on real life. With EAMHC, knowing that we get to have even a small part in the future of children and the future of this organization is very exciting.”

The grant will go toward completing EAMHC’s outdoor space. The nonprofit agency’s Family and Children’s Services department provides mental health and educational support services to local children and families, most of which receive social service assistance. The outdoor space will feature a sensory playground, group and meeting areas, additional resources for the play therapy program, and an extension of the early intervention classroom.

Caroline May, Early Childhood Programs Director of EAMHC Family and Children’s Services, accepted the grant on behalf of the organization at the ceremony Thursday.

“As safer at home orders end, some families and staff are distressed about meeting face to face. This funding provides us an opportunity to increase our outdoor capacity to ensure families can access services and feel safer doing so,” May said. “Meeting with the students during the grant interview was wonderful. They were prepared, they took their time to ask questions, and they listened to my responses and had thoughtful follow up questions. As someone who writes grants as part of my job I was really proud to be a part of someone else learning how the process works.”

In class, students researched local needs, developed guiding vision and mission statements, reviewed proposals, conducted virtual site visits, and ultimately reached a unanimous decision.

Assistant Professor of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies Peter Weber said the level of engagement from nonprofits and the first class’ ability to work through the grantmaking process exceeded expectations.

“Organizations not only submitted proposals but also engaged with students through interviews, giving students a full-rounded professional experience. It was a wonderful learning experience for students for the dedication and passion of our local nonprofit community,” Weber said. “It is challenging to complete a real grantmaking process in one semester. Making a tough decision to award the grant to one of 20 organizations, all doing valuable work, is challenging and stressful, but the students did a great job.”

The grantmaking course was open to all students who wanted to incorporate philanthropy and nonprofit studies into their major course of study. Jordan Branchman, a Political Science sophomore minoring in Leadership Studies, enrolled in the class because he hopes to one day work with a nonprofit specializing in urban development and food insecurity.

“I know that at some point in my life, I’ll be the person on the other side of the grant making process,” Branchman said. “One thing that I realized is that when you have a vision or a mission statement, you need to make sure that you outline all your values, everything that you want, things you want to address within your community, and you need to be very specific. Another thing is the sense of community – it’s made me realize that when you’re a nonprofit, although all nonprofits are important, you need to make sure serving the community is always your top goal.”

The course will be offered again next spring. For more information on Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies in the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University, click here.