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Updated 10:00 AM April 27, 2009

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In-class philanthropy: Student activism in the classroom

Why talk about it when you can just do it?

When Stephen Garcia's Organizational Studies class "Inside Organizations" began a unit early this month on fundraising, students decided instead of reading about the topic they would toss out the lesson plan and learn about it firsthand.
Stephen Garcia, left, discusses his class' fundraiser with Brother Jerry Smith. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

Putting their fundraising lessons to a real-world test, the 62 students raised $22,000 in one week for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit.

Students accumulated more than $13,000 in cash and $9,200 in clothing and in-kind donations during the fundraiser. Brother Jerry Smith, a monk of the Franciscan order from Capuchin Soup Kitchen, received the cash during a class Monday.

"I've never heard of anything like this," Smith says of the class project. "When I heard it was $13,000 in cash, I was shocked. This is unique and wonderful."

Students organized themselves into groups of four or five and employed different strategies to raise as much money as they could.

Lauren Brady and her team organized a cab service for students on weekends. Fellow student Josh Cohen and his group sought a donation from their fraternity for a donation and held a barbecue with open pricing on items to allow for greater donations.

Some held buffet-style meals in their homes and charged per plate, while still others called people they knew and organized rummage sales and clothing drives. Many used their college and personal contacts to get the word out about their fundraiser, while others used mass text messaging and e-mails.

The class members wrote their final papers on their experiences fundraising for the soup kitchen.

"This wasn't just to have a fund drive," Garcia says. "Over the course of the semester we've talked about issues like motivation, social networking, personal influence, and also creativity and brainstorming in groups, and assigning tasks to team members based on that they're good at."

Smith, director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, says many programs will benefit from the funds, including an urban gardening program and a bakery that was to open Sunday. The bakery is to be run by former prisoners and homeless people.

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