Course reaches out

In such tough economic times, many people, companies and organizations struggle and Shoulder To Shoulder and the Know Theatre are no exceptions to the rule. STS and Know submitted an application to be a part of the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project – Northern Kentucky University’s civic-engagement foundation. The project’s mission is to incorporate philanthropy with classes in hopes that NKU students will learn to be productive citizens within their own community.

Communication Graduate Program Director Dr. Jimmie Manning also applied to be part of the project. After being accepted, Manning and his Pop Culture and Relationships course were granted $3,000 to help the organizations of their choice. STS and Know Theatre were both recipients of the money.

Shoulder to Shoulder, Inc. is a volunteer service that assists the poor and underprivileged around the clock. It provides food, clothing, furniture, and in some cases housing. If STS can’t personally help, its people give referrals to shelters as well as educational and medical services.

Know Theatre, a non-profit known for its contemporary and provocative entertainment, received a portion of the funds. Government associate Alexandra Kesman said that the organization was appreciative of the money. She also said that there was a correlation between what the students learned at NKU about relationships and Know’s educational series, ‘Know-To-Go.’

One of the plays that is a part of ‘Know-To-Go’ is the monologue series, ‘This.Is.America.’ The monologues draw from personal experience and bring to light issues and misconceptions people have about one another. Race, gender and orientation are only a few of the topics covered in the series. While Manning’s class and the participants of Know-To-Go both learned about different kinds of relationships, Kesman said it was the same material at the end of the day.

‘Our educational series ties into their relationship class because it (This.Is.America) talks about race and diversity,’ Kesman said.

Kesman said she couldn’t explain what kind of impact the students had on the organization and vice versa until Thursday, April 30 when representatives from Know Theatre come to talk to the class.

Like Know Theatre, STS gained some funding, but everyone, including the organization, the students and Manning all walked away with something more valuable than money.
‘Fortunately, a lot of research still shows that a lot of people are still giving,’ Manning said. ‘They get that money out of it, but I also think that they (STS) make these connections.’

He said that the majority of the time the organizations are able to come into the classrooms and get more people interested in a cause. The students get to see the hard work the representatives put into their organizations. As a result, they are building bonds with the community outside of the people that they help.

The students learned leadership skills by assessing which organization they would help with. ‘Since they are in a relationships class, the students wanted to focus on undervalued or underprivileged relationships,’ Manning said. While STS does provide for people’s physical needs, the organization also helps people mentally. Current single mothers are paired up with women who have been in the same situation as part of a mentoring program.

‘A lot of these women are single mothers and they’re homeless because they just don’t know how to make it work,’ Manning said. ‘It’s not that they’re unintelligent, it’s not that they don’t have the ability to work, it’s not that they’re lazy, it’s that they need somebody to say ‘Listen up. This is how you do it’hellip;this is how you make things happen.”

Manning said that the class also came away with a better understanding of relationships. Only so much can be learned from a textbook and classroom discussion.

‘It’s easy to look in a textbook and look at relationships and say, ‘okay, this is how a relationship goes,” Manning said. ‘But when you’re in a class and have to start talking to people about relationships and start examining (through the project) how a community has problems that need to be solved regarding relationships they can kind of dig into that.’

Though he isn’t sure how many students will continue to work’ with the organization, Manning said that he hopes the students learned how to ‘engage the cause.’ He said that just last week he blindly gave money to an organization without actually understanding what its mission is. He said he asked afterward, but wants his students to always remember to ask.

‘I hope the students will if they’re fortunate enough to give, they’ll give, but they’ll think really deeply about who [they’re] giving to’hellip;I think that will be something they will carry with them,’ Manning said.

However, the students already gave. Executive Director Melissa Eames said that the money given to the organization will go toward transitional housing.

‘It’s always been part of our mission,’ Eames said. ‘[The] students are the catalyst for the transitional housing [to] be possible.’

As for himself, Manning said that he thought he knew a lot’ about relationships, but was proven wrong. Not only as a professor, but a researcher, he said he felt as if he had a good understanding of all kinds of relationships. His ‘moment of humility’ happened when the class looked over the application of an organization that fostered relationships through gardening.

‘How smart is it to create a gardening organization to get people in your neighborhood talking? It’s something that I didn’t even think about,’ Manning said. ‘I find myself learning in this project just as much as the students are.’