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Students Make a Difference with $10,000 Grant to Childhood Cancer Organizations

If you can donate your time and your resources, you can be a philanthropist. That’s what students learned in this semester’s UMD School of Public Policy class, The Art and Science of Philanthropy. At the beginning of the semester, the students were told they had $10,000 that they could donate to the organization of their choosing. After hours of research, deliberations, and spirited discussions, the 52 students in the class chose to split the money and donate $5,000 each to two organizations dedicated to childhood cancer: Hope for Henry and Children’s Cause for Cancer Advocacy.

Hope for Henry provides gifts and programs to entertain and provide care and comfort while promoting recovery for children fighting cancer and serious illnesses at Children’s National Medical Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Children’s Cause for Cancer Advocacy is a national advocacy organization working to expand resources for research and specialized care for childhood cancer survivors and their families, as well as achieve access to more effective pediatric cancer therapies.

The public policy class aims to teach students what philanthropy is and what it means to be a philanthropist, beyond just writing a check.

The undergraduate students, who came from a variety of majors, had to first determine what their voting process would look like so that they could effectively decide on issues later in class. Once that decision was made, they moved on to choosing the cause that they would be donating to. Each student picked a topic and wrote papers explaining their chosen cause. And while there were several topics that multiple students agreed on, such as domestic violence and sex trafficking, one student out of 52, Nick Voyton, chose to suggest childhood cancer. He spoke to the class about his personal battle with childhood leukemia and the struggles related to childhood cancer policy issues. Although everyone had their own causes they believed in, Voyton’s moving personal story and passion persuaded the 51 other students to rally behind childhood cancer as their class cause to support.

The class then went to work on deciding which organization would benefit from their generous donation. They wrote a mission statement, created criteria for their grant process, and wrote a request for proposals. The students then followed up with phone interviews and site visits to select organizations who applied. Sophomore student Julia Ring said they tried to remember how to balance the head and the heart when making philanthropic decisions. “This class taught us the value of volunteering and also how to evaluate the finances of an organization and how to make decisions. This class was so different from any class I’ve taken,” Ring said.

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On Monday, May 19, the students in the class hosted a grant award ceremony and presented $5,000 checks to Hope for Henry and Children’s Cause for Cancer Advocacy. During the ceremony, students explained their decision-making process and what they learned from the class. Several students noted that through this course they learned that anyone can have a difference and make an impact. “This class taught me what philanthropy is and how I can make a difference, and that you don’t have to have a lot of money to be a philanthropist,” said freshman student Damola Adedipi.

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Benefactor Karen Levenson ’76, who with her husband Bruce Levenson spearheaded the creation of the School of Public Policy Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and the annual Do Good Challenge, said, “I think this group has gone through a life-changing experience. They learned how to work together, be open minded, and go through a learning process of looking at a problem in a new way.”

The course gave students not only the chance to make a difference, but also gave them skills they can take with them throughout their lives. Levenson said, “The students will be able to bring this skillset to many experiences they have in their daily lives. I hope this will impact them.”

As a great example of this class inspiring students to take their philanthropic efforts further, a group of University of Maryland alumni who participated in the class and other Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership activities started a Terp Giving Circle. The giving circle awards grants to organizations not selected by the current philanthropy class. They awarded their first grant of $450 to Hopecam, an organization that virtually connects children with cancer to their friends to help overcome the burden of social isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. Circle Member Sarah McDonald said, “With this first grant we are setting the tone to fund organizations that take an innovative approach to creating change.”

Additional information about the UMD School of Public Policy Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership can be found here.