MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University students in Dr. Peter Weber’s Grant-making and Philanthropic Foundations course in the College of Education and Human Services selected The Way of Wellness, an up-and-coming nonprofit organization in Murray, to receive a $3,000 grant during the fall 2017 semester.

“This is truly an example of Murray State’s strong connections with our community,” said Dr. David Whaley, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. “We understand that we are unable to fulfill our educational missions without unifying with our community partners.”

The Way of Wellness is a residential mentoring facility for women with children who are homeless or victims of domestic violence. The organization held its first official board meeting in June of 2016 and began serving its first family client in May 2017.

“Our motto is: ‘Offering a hand up, not a hand out.’ Our goal is to help the women and children we serve break the cycles of domestic violence, generational poverty and dependence on government assistance,” said Traci Lawrence, founder and director of The Way of Wellness.

Funding for the Murray State grant is made possible by the Student Engagement Initiative, a core pillar of the University’s Giving Back Endowment, which was established in 2008 by Dr. Bob Long and his wife, Patricia. Long previously served as a distinguished visiting professor in the College of Education and Human Services.

The couple created the endowment to help grow programs of study in community and nonprofit leadership, to increase the application of service-learning teaching methodology, to find new and effective outreach strategies to support community-based organizations and initiatives and to foster the strong history of community leadership development and service learning at Murray State. To accomplish these goals, the endowment consists of two primary components: the Faculty Innovation Initiative and the Student Engagement Initiative.

The endowment’s faculty-directed component provides a one-time seed fund for faculty looking to develop innovative approaches that connect students to real-life community contexts in which the principles of giving may be applied. The student-directed component provides students the opportunity to become decision-makers in the distribution of grants through a core philanthropy course in the University’s nonprofit leadership studies (NLS) program.

Weber’s 300-level course in the nonprofit leadership studies program has been involved with the Student Engagement Initiative for three semesters now. Last semester, grant monies were awarded to the Purchase Area Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center.

Giving students the ability to grant real money changes the dynamics of the course. Students gain a deeper sense of responsibility when they become the stewards of real funds that could greatly impact an organization and the community at large.

“A grant of $3,000 has a significant impact in the community, as it is one of the largest local grants supporting local nonprofit organizations,” Weber said. “Two of the factors that directed students to The Way of Wellness were the passion of the director, Traci Lawrence, during the site visit and the fact that this is a relatively new organization. Many students thought they could have a greater impact by supporting an organization in its early stages so as to help it grow.”

The Way of Wellness plans to use its new grant monies to pay for the facility’s electric bill for an entire year.

“In our first six months, we have served 35 women and children,” Lawrence said. “We anticipate serving around 80 to 90 next year because more and more people are finding out about our organization. This grant will help us do that by providing for one of the most basic needs of a residential facility.”

The students’ decision is never easy when it comes to determining the recipients of the grant and this semester was no exception.

“Every class is different,” Weber said. “Students react to the components of the course very differently, which changes the class dynamics every time. What stood out this semester was the students’ interest in building the capacity of the nonprofit sector by supporting infrastructure and overhead costs, rather than focusing on a specific issue.”

Though he served as a primary contributor to this fund, Long suggested that the endowment’s success would not be possible without assistance from the community.

“While Patricia and I established the endowment with the benefit of matching funds from the Kellogg Foundation,” Long said, “we are thrilled that so many students, Murray State staff and faculty and community volunteers contributed to help grow the endowment to a point where it will generate excellent support for the NLS program in perpetuity. We look forward to watching the great work students do with the Student Engagement Initiative in the years to come.”

When asked what advice she would give to prospective grant applicants in the future, Lawrence said, “I encourage them to take the time to apply and to get to know the students and the professors in the NLS program. It has been an encouraging and very positive experience for me.”

If you are interested interested in learning more about the Giving Back Endowment and how to make a gift that will impact the lives of many, please visit murraystate.edu/givingbackor contact Melanie Brooks with the Murray State Office of Development at 270-809-3026.

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