Writing for Nonprofit Organizations: A Classroom without Walls. (On-Going Topics)

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Abstract

This paper explores the importance of reciprocity in service-learning courses and how a course in grant writing at the undergraduate level successfully linked students with nonprofit organizations and engaged them in applying the grant writing instruction they received in the classroom to the efforts of the nonprofit organizations they served. Covering the development of this course and tracking the students' changing perceptions via their journal writings, this paper discusses ways in which students moved from questioning the relevance of service to envisioning themselves as catalysts for change, equipped with the tools to effect that change.

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"Something there is that doesn't love a wall, That wants it down."

In the context of the poem "Mending Wall," the "something" that wants to bring down walls is nature, the cycle of freezing and thawing, the expansion and contraction of the land. On another level, it is Robert Frost, the poet, who doesn't like walls, demanding to know what he's "walling in or walling out." I, too, like Frost and those he represents, don't like walls-either those I can see and especially those I can't. But, they are there. They separate the "haves" from the "have-nots," those who are "in" from those who are "out," the powerful from the disenfranchised.

As university professors, we are called upon to address this divide. How do we equip our students to become responsible citizens committed to the common good? What exactly does it mean to be committed to the common good? How do we get our students to accept the challenges and risks of "real-world" learning and to understand that knowledge has "real-world" applications beyond one's chosen profession and individual goals to make money, buy things, and support oneself? How do we teach students what it means to be invested in and a part of a larger community? In short, how do we build classrooms without walls?

In the 1980s, many colleges began requiring community service as a way to build a responsible citizenship. In the 1990s, as community service became intertwined with classroom instruction, service-learning classes increasingly made their marks in university curriculum across the country. Then-President of Rutgers' University, Edward Bloustein, championed such courses as a "necessary component of the learning experiences which constitute a liberal education" (qtd. in Hensen & Sutliff, 1998, p. 191). In its broad sense, service learning is defined as a "course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility" (Bringle & Hatcher, 1999, p. 112).

To that end, service-learning experiences have moved students outside the classroom and into our nation's soup kitchens, rape crisis centers, and homeless shelters, giving them a first-hand basis from which to write about and discuss social issues. For Bruce Herzberg (1994) and others who have written on service-learning courses, such experiences should provide more than just first-hand exposure to social issues for students to study and write about. As Herzberg notes, such courses should make students "better citizens, citizens in the strongest sense of those who take responsibility for communal welfare" (1994, p. 317). According to Anne Ruggles Gere and Jennifer Sinor, service learning should "broaden students' perspectives from the exclusively personal toward ... [an understanding] that responsibility for social justice extends beyond individual acts of charity to comprehending the ways that social institutions affect our lives" (1997, p. 54).

Service learning, therefore, should not be a one-way street. As Robert G. Bringle and Julie A. …