Kent State University’s Community Engaged Learning (CEL) secured a $10,000 grant through the United Way of Portage County, an independently-governed nonprofit organization that serves disadvantaged members of our community.

This grant will support CEL’s Community Partner Advocate program (CPA) which places students at local nonprofits throughout the county for paid hands-on learning experiences. 

The CPA program, started in 2019, matches students in the program with a local nonprofit organization or a government agency based on their academic or personal interests. The students meet twice a month with their fellow community partner advocates where they discuss their work, deepen their relationships with each other and develop civic skills. 

Students have worked with nonprofits such as United Disability Services, AxessPointe Community Health Centers and King Kennedy Community Center. 

Craig Berger, associate director of CEL, oversees this program. He helps place students with nonprofits based on their preferred area of focus. 

This grant will help fund students in their respective positions working with nonprofits within the local area. It focuses on students within the CPA program who are eligible for federal work study.

"When an off-campus organization hosts students in federal work study positions, the federal government covers 75% of the students’ wages, which means participating organizations are typically on the hook for the remaining 25%,” Berger said. “Even this reduced number can pose a barrier for many organizations who are interested in hosting students. United Way provided these funds to cover this remaining portion of student wages, which allows more community organizations to benefit from community-committed students and more students to engage in a powerful community-based learning experience”

CEL has partnered with United Way of Portage County in the past. The organization is often a part of CEL’s Day of Service programming, and students have helped put together literacy kits for local elementary schools as well as participated in other literacy initiatives. 

“We've collaborated with United Way quite a bit,” Berger said. “They've had a couple of our community partner advocates work with them to develop various projects, and we’re incredibly grateful for the work they do in the community and for our partnership with them.”

Many of the students who have participated in the CPA program have been able to make a difference through United Way. 

“Originally, I wanted to research how to improve the quality of life for amputees, but I fell in love with the work I was doing through United Way and am now looking into a career in the non-profit field, still under the realm of prosthesis,” said Cassidy Ridley, a CPA assigned to United Way of Portage County in 2019. “I was able to find work that I thoroughly enjoy doing and hope to continue to do throughout any career path I choose.”

The United Way grant will open up more opportunities with nonprofits who might be too small to afford to pay students, as well as create more possibilities for students to be placed in Portage County organizations. 

“We're aiming to expand the array of organizations who would be willing to host students and where students could really make a difference,” Berger said. 

Because of this grant, Kent State is able to improve community engagement, provide more chances for students to participate in nonprofit work and make meaningful contributions.

“One of the most powerful things in our work and also in community engagement is the stories,” Berger said. “Because of this grant, not only will more transformative work be able to take place, but more stories about that work will be able to be shared. Anytime we tell stories in which people are making such a profound impact, it can liberate others to do the same.”

For more information about the Community Partner Advocate Program, visit https://www.kent.edu/community/sl


POSTED: Monday, February 7, 2022 12:00 AM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 05:58 PM