Competition offers hands-on experience for grant-writing students

KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 16, 2020

Kennesaw State senior Kylie Burns decided to major in human services because she wanted a path into a career where she can make a difference.

She got an opportunity to do just that this semester as part of a KSU grant-writing class in which she helped a local nonprofit organization win a $15,000 award from the United Way of Greater Atlanta through its SPARK Prize competition, designed to fund projects addressing social challenges throughout the Atlanta metro area.

“This was a great learning experience, and it reaffirms my commitment to this field,” said Burns, who will graduate in May. “I can now visualize the impact I can have in this field and understand that I can use my skills to really help people.”

SPARK Competition
From left, Kylie Burns, Nicole Lawson, Shandia Sinclair, Ashley Francis, Bianca Ash-Walker, and Jennifer Wade-Berg.

Burns joined fellow human services students Ashley Francis and Shandia Sinclair to help Kidz2Leaders, a nonprofit organization in Marietta dedicated to ending the cycle of generational incarceration, earn the grant. The winning grant was the result of their major project for a grant-writing and fundraising class, required of all human services majors and an integral part of working in a nonprofit organization.

“We now know what a winning grant looks like,” Sinclair said. “For me, it was a lot of fun because we were involved in every part of it. We made suggestions, we edited it, they took some of our ideas and we were able to conduct the research that became a part of their presentation. For our group, it was really hands-on.”

Over the summer, United Way of Greater Atlanta approached KSU’s Wellstar College of Health and Human Services to discuss collaboration for the SPARK Prize contest. The discussion led to associate professor Jennifer Wade-Berg’s grant-writing and fundraising course, where students were given the option to pick one of five organizations, all of which serve communities in Cobb County, to apply their studies and help in writing grant proposals to solicit United Way.

For much of the assignment, students spent their time compiling research into easily integrated pieces for the purposes of the grant submission and presentation, tailoring the data to the mission of their respective nonprofit. They met with their nonprofits weekly throughout the semester to fine-tune the submission and create a five-minute “pitch” with PowerPoint. The presentation took place in front of a United Way panel in a setting inspired by the TV program “Shark Tank.”

The assignment took on extra resonance during the coronavirus pandemic that has severely affected the economy, Wade-Berg said.

“Nonprofit agencies have a tremendous responsibility and community role. Consequently, the need for resources (monetary and nonmonetary) are always in the forefront as they are asked to meet and confront increasing demands for services. In this economic downturn, this becomes even more pronounced” she said. “This project provides students with an experience that teaches then in a very nuanced way how nonprofit organizations not only develop programs, but work with a prospective funding agency. This type of experience also gives them insight to the very type of work they hope to be doing in the future and play a small role in helping their community.”

Christina Cummings, executive director of Kidz2Leaders, said having extra help made a big difference in the effectiveness of the grant. She added that the grant money will go toward a three-pronged mission of helping the children of incarcerated individuals gain secure housing and fulfill basic needs, close the skills gap and learn how to build wealth.

“It’s been a lot of fun to work with these students and show them the granting process from start to finish,” Cummings said. “They came up with great ideas for writing the grant, as well as critical research and data to back our project. They were actively involved every step of the way.”

United Way Regional Director for Cobb County Nicole Lawson said Kennesaw State’s dedication to addressing homelessness through Campus Awareness, Resources and Empowerment (CARE) Services, insistence on engaging students with real-world problems through their coursework, and strong programs in human services made it the perfect partner for the competition.

“The opportunity to work with Dr. Wade-Berg and her students in teaming up with our five nonprofit finalists has been a wonderful addition to this year’s event,” said Lawson, a KSU alumna. “The finalist nonprofits have ultimately benefited from having Dr. Wade-Berg’s expertise and the students’ creativity.”

– David Shelles

Photos by Jason Getz

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