​Student Projects Benefit Seguin Nonprofits

November 20, 2018

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What began as an assignment for students in Professor Judith Hoffmann’s Empathy For Social Change course has significantly improved spaces for two local nonprofits. Their work has resulted in the construction of an outdoor grilling area for senior living facilities Eden Cross and Eden Place, as well as laying the foundation for a “catio” at the Society for Animal Rescue and Adoption (SARA) Sanctuary.

After students competed in a Shark Tank-style pitch, donors decided both projects deserved funding and awarded $800 to each group.

This fall, 15 students in Professor Hoffmann’s Leadership For Social Change class were tasked with implementing these two projects at both locations. Junior Dramatic Media major Victor Dominguez has been part of the process since last spring.

“Before the ideas even began we had gone to an event in San Antonio called the Empathic Pitch where companies were donating money to help people make their ideas happen,” Dominguez said. “We started talking about doing one here. We then began moving forward and my group did some visits out to SARA to see how we could help them. We finally settled on developing a patio for cats—a ‘catio’—on their property.”

Student Jackson Hughes at SARA.

Not only did the SARA group receive $800 for the catio, former TLU instructor and Austin-based nonprofit attorney, Mollie Cullinane '97, was so moved by the students’ passion she decided to match the amount.

“From day one we’ve been implementing our projects,” Dominguez said. “Watching something go from concept to reality is insane. To know that we are providing a service for animals in the area is really important for us. SARA is a no-drop, no-kill shelter so having a bigger, cleaner place means fewer sick animals, less money spent on medical care, and makes the employees’ jobs easier so they can provide a social good to the community. Their work is inspiring. These animals don’t have a voice so we need to be their voice.”

Juniors Ryan Barry and Malia Fuller have been involved with the construction of the outdoor grilling area at Eden Cross and Eden Place. Their main goal was to have a space where residents from both facilities could congregate and get to know each other better.

“It was a blessing for me to be part of this and to hear from the people who live there about how much it means to them,” Barry, a social entrepreneurship major, said. “I realized that what we were doing in the community was so much bigger than a class project. Dr. Hoffmann always tells us it might be hard for one person to change the world, but it’s not hard for TLU to change the world. I kept thinking about my own grandparents and the fact the residents at Eden are someone else’s family too.”

Students Elijah Lewis and Porfirio Dubon at Eden Cross.

Fuller, a marketing major, was particularly drawn to the project because of her background and connection to advocating for underserved populations.

“I moved around a lot as a kid and didn’t really have close relationships so bringing people together is very important to me,” she said. “Growing up I was often surrounded by older people who guided me and gave me advice. This was personal for me as well since I see how sometimes the elderly are maybe forgotten in our society. It’s important they know we’re here for them. A few people really can make a difference, but you don’t always realize that until you’re right there.”

Professor Hoffmann, chair of TLU’s Department of Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (SISE), says she works to have her students involved in hands-on projects for two main reasons.

“First, these community projects are a great way for them to see how their work has an impact for the nonprofit organizations they work with,” she said. “Since social entrepreneurs work toward solving social issues that often do not get the attention they deserve, these projects allow them to work past any barriers and get direct exposure to some of these issues while they work to make the situation better. Secondly, I firmly believe that the best way to teach social entrepreneurship and social innovation is through field experience. It is one thing to read about something and talk about it in a classroom, but it is another thing for students to take what they are reading and get to experience it in a real-time, real-world situation.”

She also says her classes are able to practice what they are learning as a way to gain empathy and leadership skills—two key components crucial for this type of work.

“I also firmly believe that this is what makes the SISE degree and program a bit different. Almost all of our SISE classes are project based and also almost always student-led. In addition to project-based teaching we also have a robust internship program, as well as a study abroad requirement. We keep our students engaged for sure.”

The class would like to extend their gratitude to the following individuals for dedicating their time, materials, and support:

  • Ray Stahl at Eden Cross/Place
  • Tracy Frank and Vince at SARA
  • Project leaders for Eden Cross: Destiny Psencik and Kelsey Hayes
  • Project leaders for SARA: Skylea Tatsch and Jackson Worley
  • Materials manager for Eden Cross: Scheurer Smith
  • SARA design leader: Elijah Lewis
  • Publicity team: Malia Fuller, Victor Dominguez, David Wells, Ryan Barry, and George Assousa
  • Mollie Cullinane
  • VirTegus, LLC
  • Englehart Custom Homes
  • Express Metered Concrete, LLC (sold to students at cost)
  • Pecancrete (free time & labor on the SARA project)
  • Lance Tasch with James Christian Custom Homes
  • Brandon Cain and Cain's Decorative Concrete (worked on the Eden Cross project and gave freely of his time)
  • Tobin Hoffmann

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