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Oct 15, 2013

JMU Faculty Embark on a Tour of Local Social Enterprises

United Way Tour

Jeff has a wife and several children he wants to provide for—but, he is visually impaired, and Jeff’s disability has made it difficult for him to hold down a job for a prolonged period of time.

Luckily for Jeff and his family, Friendship Industries stepped in. After determining Jeff’s skill set, his Friendship Industries job coach began working with the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired to help Jeff find a job with the right accommodations for his visual impairment. If it weren’t for the help provided by Friendship Industries, Jeff and his family might still be living on government subsidies.

But thanks to Friendship Industries, Jeff now has a steady, good paying job in Harrisonburg and is able to provide for his family. Stories like these demonstrate that the local social enterprises in Harrisonburg have impact. And JMU is taking notice in a big way.

The United Way Tour

On Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, eight JMU faculty members embarked on a United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County tour to meet with the directors of four local social enterprises—George Homan from Friendship Industries, Ron Copeland from Our Community Place, Keith Gnagey from the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic, and Luanne Bender Long from the Center for Marriage and Family Counseling.

Led by United Way Executive Director Betsy Hay and Associate Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement Jim Shaeffer, the group consisted of Jennifer Coffman, the Associate Executive Director for the Office of International Programs; Barry Falk, the Director of the JMU Honors Program; Scott Gallagher, head of the Management Department; Walt Ghant from the office of Community Service Learning; Bob Kolodinsky, Director of the Gilliam Center; Marshall Pattie, Management professor at JMU; Hunter Swanson, Exchange Visitor Coordinator in the Office of International Programs; and the College of Business Dean Dr. Mary Gowan.

The Social Enterprises

Friendship Industries is dedicated to developing and maintaining employment and training opportunities for persons with disabilities in integrated work environments. Over 75 percent of the employees at Friendship Industries are persons with physical or developmental disabilities--but because of their employee training and integrated work environment, Friendship Industries generates millions of dollars each year. Truthfully, this organization proves that all employees bring abilities that are valuable in the workplace and beyond.

Our Community Place is a community center that aims to help marginalized persons rediscover true community. For five days each week, Our Community Place offers cooperative community meals, shared activities, and work to help promote community growth and personal well-being. Each Tuesday, Our Community Place opens specifically for work projects to help maintain the beauty of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic (HRFC) offers medical care to uninsured, eligible residents of Harrisonburg and Rockingham Country, improving their lifestyles and health by promoting good health practices. The HRFC is dedicated to providing quality outpatient health care and services through the help of their qualified volunteers and staff members.

The Center for Marriage and Family Counseling is a private, nonprofit organization that has been offering affordable counseling services since 1972. All staff members are licensed and dedicated to providing quality, compassionate counseling to any resident living in the Central Shenandoah Valley, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Goals of the Tour

The tour marked JMU’s most recent opportunity for increased engagement and collaboration with the community and our local social enterprises. These types of organizations are often, though not always, nonprofit organizations that are more concerned with helping society rather than generating large revenue.

The purpose of the United Way tour was to gain useful information about the needs of each of the four local social enterprises. With the knowledge gained from the tour, the College of Business plans to collaborate with these local organizations and offer opportunities for partnership with JMU stakeholders, faculty, staff, and students.

In the spring, the College of Business will launch a new service-learning course in Social Entrepreneurship that gives students the opportunity to participate in projects that will help to enhance and aid our local social enterprises. These projects are going to be based on the particular needs of the social enterprise and can include anything from strategic planning, surveying employees and clients, marketing, or even fundraising. Dr. Bob Kolodinsky, the professor of the Social Entrepreneurship course, explains, “I have a heartfelt call to have more social impact—I want to do more than just teach. This new course aims to cultivate the collaborative relationships that are needed to accomplish meaningful projects for our local social enterprises. Students will be making an impact while also gaining valuable learning experiences.”

In recent years, JMU has become increasingly more engaged with the local community, collaborating with numerous organizations. For the College of Business, the United Way tour was a gateway to connect these organizations with trained students ready to apply their knowledge from the classroom to real world experiences. “United Way is pleased to facilitate mutually beneficial collaboration between JMU and our community nonprofit enterprise,” says United Way tour leader Betsy Hay. “United Way agencies bring a wealth of nonprofit experience and are open to creative engagement with JMU faculty, staff and students that leads to excellence in business management. The shared learning opportunities for both JMU and our local social enterprises are limitless.”

In the coming weeks, faculty from the College of Business plan to reconnect with the local social enterprises to pitch project ideas that students enrolled in the Social Enterpreneurship course will begin working on in the spring semester. These collaborative efforts are opportunities for students in the College of Business to engage in outreach and develop as individuals. “As a business school focused on preparing students to be engaged, principled business professionals and leaders, we understand the value of partnerships with our local community,” says College of Business Dean Dr. Mary Gowan.

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