Sitting together on couches in a residence hall lounge, Duke students were in various stages of flipping through contact information stored in their phones, writing personalized notes to their parents and friends, and sealing crisp, white envelopes.
Each sealed envelope contained a letter asking for support of the “Durham Giving Project,” a Duke course that raises money and awards grants to local nonprofits. On Tuesday evenings during the spring semester, 14 undergraduate students meet in Keohane residence hall to discuss Duke’s relationship with Durham and the city’s successes and challenges relating to affordable housing and neighborhood development, at-risk youth, health care, and education.
The course has been offered at Duke for about 14 years and is a house course, which means it is led by undergraduate student instructors, taught in a residence hall and fulfills an academic half-credit. In addition to talking about Duke and Durham, students raise money for nonprofits by sending letters to friends and family as well as coming up with ideas such as a Cook Out milkshake delivery service and a bake sale. Students then hear presentations by nonprofit leaders and ultimately decide who receives $500 grants.
Duke junior Dhara Patel is one of the student instructors for the course. She and the other students have raised about $4,000 this semester and have heard presentations by 11 local nonprofits that have submitted a grant application.
“(The class) made me appreciate Duke that much more and Durham that much more,” Patel said. “I can’t overemphasize how amazing the people are. These 14 students, they come in and they’re working and they’re engaging and they care. I think that’s amazing.”
The course is supervised by Sam Miglarese, an adjunct instructor of education in Duke’s Program in Education and the director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, which is part of the Duke Office of Durham & Regional Affairs, and Janet Xiao, co-director of Triangle nonprofit Community Empowerment Fund.
The Duke Office of Durham & Regional Affairs helps line up speakers for the course, which have included nonprofit strategic development consultant and Durham native Susan Ross, who discussed fundraising strategies, as well as a Duke’s associate vice provost for Academic Affairs, Molly Goldwasser, who spoke about her personal involvement in the community as a nonprofit board member and donor. The office also helps connect the students to nonprofit leaders and provides supplies such as letters for fundraising outreach.
“Some students view this course as a defining experience during their time at Duke,” Miglarese said. “They learn about Durham history and take a tour of nearby neighborhoods. They get to know Duke as a bridge that can help them connect with the Durham community.”
In 2016, Duke Habitat for Humanity received one of the $500 grants after Duke student Jake Conroy gave an in-person presentation to “Durham Giving Project” students. He shared how Duke Habitat for Humanity raises $25,000 every year to sponsor building one house in Durham.
“The course incorporates people from outside Habitat to start thinking about organizations they may have never thought about at Duke and how they interact with the community,” Conroy said. “I like to think that we are able to provide some really good anecdotes about families that have directly benefitted from the money we fundraise.”
During the 2016 fall semester, Duke Habitat for Humanity brought together about 300 Duke community members to build a house in East Durham for a family of four. The family had been living in a small apartment before moving in January to their new Habitat home.
Duke senior Allison Rothschild, who is planning to go to law school and study public interest law, said she signed up for the course this semester because she wanted to learn more about Durham and how nonprofits operate.
“Now that I have taken this class, I wish I would have taken it earlier,” Rothschild said. “I want to make more of an effort, wherever I end up in the next few years, to engage with the local community, because I wish it was something I had done earlier during my time at Duke.”