Blue Hen Leadership Program Community Fellows assist nonprofit agencies
1:17 p.m., June 11, 2014--Connecting resources for mutual benefit is one of the hallmarks of working with communities and this past year University of Delaware Blue Hen Leadership Program Community Fellows spent time helping local nonprofit agencies tackle a variety of issues.
The community fellows program was developed by the Blue Hen Leadership Program (BHLP), the co-curricular leadership development program for undergraduate students, in partnership with UD’s organizational and community leadership academic major and the Center for Community Research and Service (CCRS).
The career connection
The program was designed by Susan Luchey, associate director of University Student Centers; Anthony Middlebrooks, associate professor of public policy and administration; and Carolyn Petrak, CCRS communication and training specialist.
BHLP offers a four-tiered, co-curricular leadership development program, and is in its fourth year of operation under the University Student Centers department in the Division of Student Life.
The BHLP Community Fellows program is Tier 3, which focuses on innovation, community leadership and engaged citizenship, and students who had completed Tiers 1 and 2 in prior years were eligible to apply to become fellows.
Those selected as BHLP Community Fellows were teamed with local nonprofit organizations to learn their structure, mission, finances and operation. Students then designed a research-based proposal to benefit the agencies through an innovative approach to each organization’s mission.
As BHLP Community Fellows, students learned what it means to be engaged citizens by experiencing the connection between community stewardship and leadership.
In this first year of the Tier 3 program, 25 local nonprofits were invited to participate and representatives of 18 of those organizations attended a summer interest meeting.
Of those, 12 applied to be a part of the program and eight were selected based on their application and description of a “wicked problem” they needed help solving.
Partnering agencies were Children and Families First, Community Collaborations International, Connecting Generations, Creative Vision Factory, Goodwill Industries of Delaware, Paws for People, Special Olympics of Delaware, and Yes U Can International.
The BHLP Community Fellows spent the fall semester learning about the social sector in general, and their nonprofit in particular.
Each student was required to conduct interviews with the agency’s executive director, board members, volunteers, staff and clients. Site visits were made and Internal Revenue Service 990 forms were studied.
If appropriate and possible, students attended board meetings as well as an event or activity sponsored by their agency. Additional research was conducted by examining similar issues in like organizations around the country.
Each team developed a detailed analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of their agency, ending with a proposal that would be outlined and developed with action steps during the spring semester.
Examples of the issues on which students worked included:
- Finding foster care for teenage girls;
- Clarifying volunteer roles;
- Clarifying focus on agency mission and strategic direction;
- Considering lack of motivation of clients to stay engaged with a program;
- Looking at the need for consistent short-term assessment in order to secure more grant funding;
- Examining the absence of web or social media presence, resulting in poor program alumni base and loyalty; and
- Studying the need for clarity in expectations between agency and volunteers.
Students presented their innovative and viable solutions on April 23, at a dinner attended by representatives of each partnering agency.
Formal, written proposals summarizing research and outlining action steps for the agency to implement were sent to the agencies at the end of the spring semester.
BHLP Community Fellow participants recognize the personal and professional value and growth of engaging in project development and implementation, a representative of the program said.
“In Tier 3 of BHLP we do real life projects, impacting real individuals and communities, rather than the simulated projects we do in class,” one participant said. Another added, “BHLP has taught us initiative; rather than just doing problems, we are solving problems.”