Pay It Forward Program provides students with opportunity to give back

By Katelyn Freil, News Editor

Three graduate students in the School of Communication won $2000 for their non-profit after presenting their project to a panel of judges on Tuesday.

Students Scott Wachtel, Nathan Mellor, and Joanna Hunkins won the money for Stewarts Caring Place, provides support services, free-of-charge, to individuals and families in Summit, Medina, Stark, Portage and Wayne counties that have been touched by cancer. This project was part of Pay it Forward, a UA initiative developed in 2010 to involved students in philanthropy and service learning projects.

Nineteen M.A. students from the contemporary public relations class presented to a panel of judges that included Rich Krochka, president of Triad Communication; Tom Duke, char of Akron SCORE and founder and past president of Akron PRSA; and Wayne Hill, associated vice president and chief marketing officer of the University of Akron, said Dr. Kathleen Stansberry, professor of the class.

Stansberry said the groups in the class completed public relations plans for multiple non-profits in the Akron area: Rubber City Roller Girls, Valor Home, Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens, and the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank, along with Stewart’s Caring Place. The plans were to focus on social media outreach.

“We focused this term on incorporating social media as part of larger public relations plans,” Stansberry said. “So many businesses and organizations struggle to use social media effectively, this was a great opportunity for students to put their classroom experience to good use.

Pay It Forward was funded through a Student-Led Philanthropy grant sponsored by Ohio Campus Compact in collaboration with Kentucky Campus Compact and Michigan Campus Compact, according to a fact sheet on the organization. The program has continued to be funded by United Way of Summit County.

According to the fact sheet, the goals of the program are:

  • “Award charitable dollars to worthy non-profit organizations with strong proposals that address immediate economic needs.
  • “Build stronger communities through a skill-based volunteer force that contributes both hours served (15 per student) and financial resources (up to $2,000 per course).
  • “Provide students with the intellectual knowledge and practical experiences needed to manage philanthropic funding, including skills such as conducting needs assessments, establishing funding criteria, researching local nonprofits, interviewing community members, and developing writing, decision-making, accounting, and evaluation skills.
  • “Engage students and faculty with local communities in order to promote understanding and connectedness.
  • “Serve as a model for passing along the practice and knowledge of philanthropy and volunteerism.”

“I cannot say enough good things about the Pay it Forward program,” Stansberry said. “Not only were the students able to get real world experience, knowing they could be earning $2000 for a local nonprofit was incredible motivation. Every team went above and beyond class requirements and did extra work to make sure their clients’ needs were met.”

Wachtel said he found the coursework very motivational. He is a cancer survivor who used the resources available at Stewart’s Caring Place while going through treatment four years ago.

“For me, it was particularly meaningful to win the Pay it Forward grant for Stewarts’ Caring Place because it was a way to pay them back,” Wachtel said.