By Kim M. Martin, Contributor
Recently, Doris Buffett, Warren Buffett’s sister, visited Angela Eikenberry’s and Associate Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service Sara Woods’ Philanthropy and Democracy class.
After engaging with the class, Buffett, 83, decided to double a previous $10,000 charitable donation to the class, making the total $20,000. The funding is provided by the Sunshine Lady Foundation, a program working with universities nationwide. The contributions don’t fund the class itself, but provide money for students to give to charity.
Eikenberry said she was approached by Howie Warren Buffett, Warren Buffett’s grandson, who asked if she and Woods would be interested in offering a class on disciplined donations.
“We were like, ‘Yes! We were planning to do it already, anyway,'” Eikenberry said. “It was really great, because we didn’t have funds yet, but we were ready to and wanted to teach the class. It just was serendipity that we had already done it and were planning on doing it again.”
The course focuses on philanthropic expertise. Eikenberry and Woods discuss the role of philanthropy in U.S. society and governments across the world. The 15 students in the Philanthropy and Democracy course are divided into four groups: a poverty group, a homeless veteran group, a community development group and a youth education and mentoring group. The groups researched the particular needs in Omaha’s troubled places.
Course students then identified deserving local non-profit groups as potential recipients of Buffett’s donation. The class wrote proposals, working alongside chosen organizations.
Students debated their final choices for two winners April 13. Students explained their criteria as well as the potential impact of the grants.
Ultimately, the students made a decision to fund two of the organizations out of the four. Eikenberry and Woods guided the students through this entire process, and, on April 20, the class presented $10,000 each to City Sprouts and Directions to Diploma.
City Sprouts helps inhabitants of impoverished areas cultivate community gardens. The organization is centered in North Omaha, next to one of their main gardens. Directions to Diploma, a new program, helps high school students become re-engaged in their education so they can attain their diploma, rather than a GED.
The funding allocated to City Sprouts will go toward creating bicycles for people to ride around town for commercial exchange. The bicycles have an attached trailer system for carrying salable produce. The organization is also attempting to expand their greenhouse to extend the growing season.
“We’re also going to help them fund some materials they need to be able to accept food stamps so people can use the EBT card to buy the healthy food,” Eikenberry said.
Part of the funding will also pay for individuals with exceptional needs to work in the garden. This includes the disabled and recent immigrants, and other individuals for whom employment would be otherwise difficult to obtain, such as ex-gang members, those with criminal convictions or who lack job skills. The workshops and training will be provided by City Sprouts’ Education Center and city extension program. The teaching provided by volunteer workers will serve as a key component to this program’s success.
“City Sprouts had done a similar hiring program last year that was very successful,” said senior Philosophy major Jacqueline Horani. “The point is not to come in and tell people what they need or how to fix it – this is a community run project from start to finish.” Horani served as one of the class members specifically advocating funding City Sprouts, where she is also a volunteer member.
The project will also collaborate with other local businesses to implement their ideas. Olympia Cycle bike shops will be building the future design for multiple bicycle units with attached trailer systems to be used for the sustainability of the project. Wohlner’s grocery stores, Valero Gas Station and the Aksarben and Florence Mill farmers’ markets are among city participants. City Sprouts is specifically targeting “food deserts,” urban areas where there is a three-mile radius surrounding a community in which there are no grocery stores.
There is substantial potential for the adaptation of more convenience stores within these communities to begin accepting credit for purchases made using the EBT card by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. If the program takes off, it can be a model for food deserts in other states. Doris Buffett showed great interest in the concept when she spoke to students and is interested in implementing the program in Virginia if it proves successful.
“It’s really exciting to be able to help provide funding for an EBT card reader, since many of the residents in the City Sprouts area participate in the SNAP program,” said first-year MPA student Megan Edwards. “The funding for the card reader will make fresh produce very available to them compared to now.”
Jeanine Dickes, co-director of City Sprouts, has chosen to continue to actively promote and engage in the expansion of this unique collaborative effort. Dickes is currently undergoing the application process through the Kiewit Foundation in hope of obtaining a grant matching Doris Buffett’s donation for this life-changing, inner-city enterprise.
The Sunshine Lady Foundation is also working with UNL and UNK to offer similar classes as part of their “Learning to Give” program. Additionally, the foundation is actively working to expand the number of classes that they’re funding.