Philanthropy Class Helps Both Students and Community

By Andrew Stoddard ’14

Here at Hampden-Sydney, we pride ourselves on a broad, wide-ranging liberal curriculum. Philanthropy in Theory and in Practice, a new independent study course offered this past fall semester, has been a successful and popular addition to the course offerings.

Taught by Dr. Saranna Thornton, Professor of Economics, came up with the idea for the class when she read about a similar course taught by Thomas Morrione at Colby College, her alma mater. In putting together the material for the course, Dr. Thornton incorporated several different disciplines, and consulted several professors from different departments about what readings and information should be included in the syllabus.

“I asked professors in other departments to recommend readings, including Dr. Janowski [in philosophy], the Classics Department, and Professors Utzinger, Vogel and Carney [in the religion department],” Thornton said.

Thornton taught a class of mostly seniors that met once per week for three hours.  Among the students in the class were Steven Thacker ’13 and Ben Quinn ’13, both of whom were very interested in the course even before the first day of class.

“I’ve always been interested in philanthropy, and it was a chance to learn how to write grant proposals,” Thacker said.  “After three and half years of tests, I wanted real world practical experience, and spending half the time volunteering in the community was an attractive idea,” Quinn said.

In addition to several smaller essays throughout the semester, students also had to write a grant proposal persuading their classmates to give $10,000 in grant money to the organization with whom they volunteer for. The Learning by Giving Foundation, founded by Doris Buffett, provided the $10,000 in grant money for the students to give to the organizations. There were proposals for 5-6 organizations in the Farmville/Prince Edward area, but in the end, the Heart of Virginia Free Clinic and FACES food pantry were each awarded $5,000 in grant money.  The Heart of Virginia Free Clinic is a clinic in downtown Farmville that serves patients who don’t have health insurance, and don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.  The clinic is open Tuesday Night, and is serviced by local medical professionals.  FACES is the local food pantry in Farmville that provides a bag of canned food to needy people every Saturday.  Both organizations use a screening procedure to make sure they serve people who actually need the help.

Thacker and Quinn wrote and presented the proposal for Heart of Virginia Free Clinic while Brian Sone ’13 put together the grant for FACES.  However, according to Thacker and Quinn, they got so much more out of the class than just a successful grant proposal.

“I honestly benefited just as much as the people I was helping because it gave a new outlook and perspective on life,” Thacker said.  “It made me realize how fortunate we are, and that sometimes we take some things for granted,” Quinn added.

If you missed the course this past semester, don’t worry.  The Philanthropy in Theory and in Practice will be offered during the fall semester for the next three years.  “The Learning by Giving Foundation was so impressed by the student’s work that they renewed the grant for three more years,” Dr. Thornton said.  The course is open only to juniors and seniors who have completed Rhetoric 102, though exceptional sophomores could get in.  “We wanted people [for the course] who were academically successful and understood the nature of giving to the community,” Dr. Thornton said.

The course comes highly recommended from Quinn and Thacker.  “You should take it if you want to make a difference,” said Thacker.  “It’s one of the best courses I’ve taken as a student here,” Quinn said.  Dr. Thornton was equally enthusiastic about the course, saying that “it was a great class, and the most fun I’ve had in 22 years of teaching.”


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