The most important reason for getting involved in service learning is to give back.
When nine RIC students entered the board room of a Lisbon nonprofit, which had been in business longer than they had been born, they understood what the executives looking on must have thought:
“They’re just college students. Without degrees. And they intend to come up with a fundraising plan for our organization?”
“We had to gain their trust,” said RIC student Nelida Silva. “But the only way to gain their trust was to prove to them that we could produce what they wanted.”
This seemingly impossible task was made possible through a RIC topics course titled “Service Learning in Portugal,” created by RIC Assistant Professor of Management Leslie DiManna. DiManna’s students were a mix of management and marketing majors: Auder Aldana, Stephanie Brodeur, Casey Ganshirt, Edwin Jorge, Keighan Roy, Vanessa Ruggieri, Nelida Silva, Kelly Smith and Roberto Soler.
From July 8-23, 2017, along with taking in the sites and surfing the waters of Portugal, the students put their heads together to come up with a fundraising business plan for the Association for Portuguese Abuse Victims (APAV). APAV advocates for and supports victims of domestic violence, child and elder abuse and human trafficking.
APAV’s agreement to partner with DiManna and her students was arranged by the Study in Portugal Network (SiPN), which also arranged their two-week itinerary. Assistance was also given by the wife of the former Ambassador of Portugal, Kim Sawyer. DiManna, a fundraiser for 20 years, provided expertise and guidance.
In a sit-down interview with DiManna and three of her nine students – Ganshirt (senior), Jorge (senior) and Silva (sophomore), the excitement from their experience was palpable.
“We met with APAV executives at an introductory meeting followed by two preparatory meetings to gather information,” Ganshirt explained, “but we found that each time we’d present an idea, it was rejected.”
“We’d go back to our hotel to think up new ideas, but at the next meeting, those ideas, too, were rejected,” she said. The reasons APAV gave for rejecting their ideas were related to lack of resources, lack of volunteers and lack of compatibility with the Portuguese culture.
With only two weeks to come up with a proposal and little information to work with, the tension was mounting.
Their final presentation was held at the headquarters of the Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD), which supports SiPN. In attendance were the top four APAV executives, three representatives from SiPN and two from FLAD.
Ganshirt recalled, “We had been up until four in the morning the night before and because none of our previous ideas had been well received, we weren’t sure how they would respond to our final presentation.”
Dressed in business attire and divided into three groups (three to a group), the students presented their proposals: 1) a savings coupon book to be used in the mall during Human Trafficking Month, with an APAV information desk and an APAV silhouette made up of the stories of victims; 2) a community soccer game, led by a top-tier professional player. During half-time, APAV would talk about its mission; and 3) a wine-tasting gala in Porto for 50 exclusive guests, where would APAV hosts share information about their services.
The students also presented detailed business plans of all three proposals, consisting of executive summaries, operations, logistics, projected budgets and projected nets.
“We estimated how much they would have to spend and how much they would gain from each event,” explained Silva. “We laid out step-by-step procedures in carrying out the events. We detailed what they would need to do before each event, such as when to begin to promote the event and how to obtain sponsors, and what they would need to do following the event, such as sending out thank you letters. We created the thank you form letters for them as well as fliers. We created a plan for the year that included a schedule of activities. And we showed them that it was attainable.”
“I think they were pretty surprised,” Silva said.
In fact, APAV decided to implement two of the three fundraisers: the savings coupon book (which had never been done before in Portugal) and the wine-tasting gala.
“After the presentation, we looked at each other and thought, ‘Wow. We did it,’” said Ganshirt.
“We did it together,” Jorge said, with a smile.
Reflecting on their personal growth from the experience, Jorge admitted to rarely socializing and to working alone more often than not, but this project taught him the value of sharing his ideas and working with others. Ganshirt discovered that her ability to communicate and to ask tough questions are her greatest strengths, while Silva recognized that her ability to listen deeply and synthesize the ideas of others had been an asset to the team.
“We lived and worked together and formed a strong bond,” said Ganshirt. “I’m certain we’ll stay friends for life.”
In addition to this project, Ganshirt and two other marketing majors – Ruggieri and Soler – were assigned to assist a Portuguese film production company in promoting their feature film “Cargo” in the United States, a movie that focuses on human trafficking. Along with compiling a press kit, the students came up with a social media campaign and suggestions for entering the film in U.S. film festivals. For their work, their names will be featured on the film’s credits.
DiManna’s pride in her students was apparent.
“The interacting, the learning to be flexible, the interpersonal skills they learned are all extremely important. And, of course, it will make them more marketable in the workplace,” she said.
“But the more important reason for getting involved in service learning is to give back,” DiManna said. “Focus shouldn’t be on how far you can get in your job or how much money you can make or when you’ll get your next promotion. We need to learn to look out for one another, which is so lacking in our society. Service learning teaches you to be a part of a community.”
The Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies at RIC awarded $2,500 in scholarships, while Associate Professor of Portuguese Studies Sílvia Oliveira was instrumental in connecting DiManna with SiPN, the preferred study abroad provider for Portugal at RIC.