Annual pitch competition inspires social justice work in the community

By Kayla Sosa

An unique pitch competition allows participants to compete for money with a goal of  helping others, not just themselves.

Four teams will compete for $5,000 in funding at the upcoming Grand Valley State University Laker Effect Challenge. This pitch competition combines business with community in hopes of helping out those right in the West Michigan neighborhood.

Faculty, staff and community members make up the teams each year. They are asked to pitch an idea or a plan to use money in partnership with a community organization for a shared cause. The teams are required to have a community partner as well as a GVSU department backing them.

Travus Burton, GVSU director of civic learning and community engagement, said the competition challenges participants to think outside of GVSU and into the needs of the individuals living in West Michigan.

“If we’re not working with the community, then I feel like we’re in danger of doing things to the community,” Burton said. “Community engagement begins with relationships, and it begins with recognizing the perspective of our community partners; what are they up against, what are they aspiring to do, what could they use assistance with, and then what makes sense for us as a university, whether it be research, teaching, community enrichment.”

Participants will have five minutes to pitch their idea, for an opportunity to win $5,000.

Ben Parsell, GVSU senior and Computer Information Systems major, is working with the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Greater Grand Rapids to purchase 12 new Chromebooks for their “Power Hour” program.

“Power Hour is an after school and summer program to help students with their homework, studying, and overall professionalism,” Parsell said.

The laptops will last five years, possibly serving up to 17,000 students, Parsell said.

“The deeper meaning behind this project, is the idea of building the next generation of leaders, professionals, and change-makers in our community,” Parsell said. “These students might not otherwise have access to technology outside of school, so keeping up with homework and projects can begin to become a stressful point of their lives. Boys’ and Girls’ Club not only can provide the safety, sociological, and mentoring opportunities it already provides, but rather can help drive success for these students as they move through their academic careers.”

Burton sees the competition as a prime opportunity for all parties to learn about the real needs of the local community.

“It’s not just a one direction service we’re providing,” Burton said. “We’re learning from their needs and their aspirations. Why is that an issue? Why is that a need? Why should we keep doing something about that? That’s what really motivates me behind this; it’s highly educational.”

The other three pitch ideas include:

Mobilizing Community Action for Inclusive Growth: Kahler Sweeney, GVSU Johnson Center for Philanthropy

A partnership between GVSU’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy and leaders at Grand Rapids Community College seeks to produce a short documentary to “illuminate” this question: What does it take to achieve widespread economic prosperity for everyone in the Grand Rapids region? The inspiration is behind Grand Rapids’ strong and prospering economy and the fact that many community member’s quality of life has actually decreased as the city has grown and haven’t been able to share in the same benefits as others. The project is slated to be the first step towards launching a “community-wide inclusive growth initiative beginning fall 2019.”

Working Hand-in-Hand with Hearts for Heartside for Food Justice Reform: Rachael Ocampo, GVSU Liberal Studies

A GVSU student-led club, Hearts for Heartside, is asking for funds to promote a marketing video and a new logo design, which would help spread the word of their services, and could increase impact on a local, regional, and statewide level. The club was created last year in collaboration with nonprofit Heartside Gleaning Initiative, which takes excess produce from the Fulton Street Farmers’ Market and redistributes it to low-income, food insecure individuals and food pantries in the Heartside community. A marketing campaign will help to increase the awareness and reach of this work.

The Zombie Apocalypse: Maureen Ryan, GVSU Kirkhof College of Nursing

The Zombie Apocalypse project is a collaboration between Grand Valley State University Kirkhof College of Nursing, The Other Way, and Servant’s Church. By sponsoring an annual Halloween Haunted/Fun House with an “impending zombie apocalypse” theme, community members will be educated on how to respond in various types of emergency or disaster situations. Attendees will also learn how to prepare a 24-hour emergency supply kit and will receive a backpack to use for their own supplies.

The panel judges this year include Ken Bair, store manager for Bridge Street Market, Jim Davis, executive director of Westside Collaborative, Janean Couch, program director for Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Jermale Eddie, owner of Malamiah Juice Bar and Jenn Schaub, director of community building and engagement for Dwelling Place.

No matter who wins, all participants are working towards a greater good in their community.

“All of us are volunteering this time to better our community, even if it comes down to just having your problem heard by others,” Parsell said. “I think overall the Laker Effect Challenge creates an opportunity to discuss problems not otherwise talked about, and it begins to create momentum towards solving those problems in a sustainable way.”

The Laker Effect Challenge will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 11 at the GVSU DeVos Center, Loosemore Auditorium.

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