Students help organizations across WNC

Students studying social entrepreneurship at Western Carolina University during the fall semester who chose to organize or assist with fundraisers in connection with their coursework helped raise more than $1,400 for organizations serving Western North Carolina.

WCU students invited students at Cullowhee Valley School to share what they were thankful for and decorate cookies for a Jackson County organization that advocates for abused children. (Photo submitted)

WCU students invited students at Cullowhee Valley School to share what they were thankful for and decorate cookies for a Jackson County organization that advocates for abused children. (Photo submitted)

A four-member student group committed to addressing the problem of child abuse met with staff members from Adults Working and Advocating for Kids Empowerment, a nonprofit organization in Sylva that advocates for abused children in Jackson County, and decided to plan a fundraiser to increase awareness of and support for the organization, said Alex Barnett, a sophomore from Fuquay-Varina. Before Thanksgiving, one of the WCU students baked nearly 150 cookies and the group invited participants in an after-school program at Cullowhee Valley School to eat one cookie and decorate at least one other to be sold. The children also completed “I’m thankful for” tags to accompany each cookie.

“The most common things the kids wrote on the cards were that they were thankful for their families, food, turkey and God,” said Barnett. “One boy wrote on his that he was thankful for a good education. A few of the kids were inquisitive as to why we were doing this, which is so great to see because it shows that they were putting a lot of thought behind what they were doing. The kids really made the fundraiser meaningful for us.”

The WCU students then sold the cookies for $2 each in their home communities during the Thanksgiving break, yielding $171 for AWAKE.

Robin Schaeffer, executive director of AWAKE, said she was grateful for the support and the opportunity to partner and collaborate again with the university.

“The project resulted in a deeper connection with WCU students, the opportunity for public school children to use their creativity and the embodiment of the importance of service to the community,” said Schaeffer.

Another group of WCU social entrepreneurship students raised nearly $200 for the Smart Start Region A Partnership for Children through fundraisers including selling hot chocolate and treats before a home WCU football game. The partnership offers programs such as child care subsidies, literacy programs, educational programs for childcare teachers and directors, and a family support network for parents and caregivers of children with special needs.

Yet another student group worked with Jack the Dipper, an ice cream shop with parlors in Sylva and Waynesville, on its annual fundraiser for Reading Rover, which delivers multi-cultural library materials to child care centers in Jackson, Macon and Swain counties as well as the Qualla Boundary. In addition, the program provides an early literacy specialist to bring storytime programs into preschool classrooms.

The WCU students made and hosted games about literacy for children to play, sought donations for a fundraising raffle and helped host what turned into two ice cream-eating contests to support the cause.

The contest was scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 1 – a WCU home football game day accompanied by unexpected winter weather, said Allie Rives, a freshman from Chapel Hill who was part of the group.

“We realized because of the snow no one was going to come, so we just had a competition for WCU Greek organizations in the tailgate parking lot,” said Rives.

So in mid-30 to low-40-degree temperatures, competitors raced to see who could eat a pint of ice cream the fastest.

The student group then helped with the rescheduled contest at Jack the Dipper in Sylva the following week. Their work helped raise more than $1,100 for Reading Rover.

Carol Grise, outreach services librarian at Fontana Regional Library, supervises the Reading Rover program and said she was very impressed with the students’ dedication to supporting the initiative and learning more about what it does.

“These funds will help purchase new library materials as well as help fund the day-to-day operating expenses of the program,” said Grise. “The money raised by the efforts of these dedicated students will help keep Reading Rover on the road.”

The fundraising projects were developed by students enrolled in sections of a social entrepreneurship course taught by Bob Lahm, associate professor of entrepreneurship, and Lane Perry, director of the Center for Service Learning. The course is part of WCU’s entrepreneurship program and is required for students participating in WCU’s Ripple Effect learning community, which is designed to challenge students to not only observe the “ripples” that small acts and service perpetuate for social change, but also to jump in and make ripples themselves.

For more information, contact Lahm at or 828-227-3295, or Perry at or 828-227-2643, or visit the website for the Center for Service Learning at