A Café for the Community

Amy Cohen, executive director for GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service; junior Melissa Eddison; John Forrer, associate director for GW's Institute for Corporate Responsibility; and GW President Steven Knapp.
April 28, 2011

A co-op that sells locally grown food wins the inaugural Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning award at GW’s 2011 Service-Learning Symposium April 26.

Junior Melissa Eddison’s idea of a nonprofit, community-run co-op cafe that will feature sustainable, local food earned her the first Steven and Diane Robinson Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning award at the university’s 2011 Service-Learning Symposium April 26.

“Melissa's project takes on an important social issue —healthy, sustainable food— and responds with an innovative business model that also serves as an educational platform for GW students and the surrounding community,” said John Forrer, associate director for GW's Institute for Corporate Responsibility, who served as Ms. Eddison's project adviser.“It is a perfect example of how taking corporate responsibility to heart can spawn a great business plan, promote community values and help improve people’s quality-of-life, all at the same time.”

As president of the GW Food Justice Alliance, Ms. Eddison helps manage GW’s community gardens and teach the GW community how to grow and compost food. The next step, she said, is showing the community how to prepare it— and she said the café is the “missing piece.”

“When I learned that I won the award, a wave of relief came over me,” said Ms. Eddison. “It was a moment of re-enforcement—that this idea that I had, that I have been sharing with whoever will listen, is being recognized by GW as an institution. GW has instilled faith in the idea, and it’s our turn to deliver!

“We want to inspire students and the community to make it their own space—putting local art on the walls, holding events there and using it as a place to raise funds and awareness about whatever people feel passionate about,” she added. “It’s all about enriching GW as a community.”

At the symposium, more than 35 GW students shared their experiences learning and serving in the District to an audience of fellow students, faculty and community partners in GW’s Marvin Center.

“Students gave really powerful presentations at the Service-Learning Symposium,” said Amy Cohen, executive director for GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “We were able to see how courses in a wide variety of disciplines test the theory they learn in the classroom in the real world. Then, that experience helps to refine theory—and at the same time provides valued service to the community.”

GW has more than 45 service-learning courses in a variety of disciplines, including women’s studies, human services and public health.

In his symposium remarks, GW President Steven Knapp said he and Ms. Knapp were inspired to increase support for service learning at the university because of how deeply engaged GW students already were in their communities.

“I think service learning is a unique strength of our university,” said Dr. Knapp. “As a university located in the heart of the nation’s capital, we have a long tradition of our students going out into the community and getting involved in different activities, but we have not as systematically put that together with our academic experience as we are now doing.

“This is something that’s continuing to build, and we can only do that because of your involvement, dedication and imagination.”

A barbecue and awards ceremony in Square 80 recognizing students, faculty and community partners followed the symposium. Aaron DeNu of GW’s Career Center, University Lieutenant David Heffer, Associate Professor of Writing Phyllis Ryder, and Fred Johnson, director of special programs and events at Vinson Hall, received awards from the GW Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service for their commitment to service learning and community service.

Students in adjunct professor Peter Konwerski’s Human Services capstone course created and ran a grant competition with funds from the Sunshine Lady Foundation. The finalists—Safe Shores, a children’s advocacy center in D.C., and Kid Power, an organization that provides educational programming for D.C. youth— were announced at the symposium.

GW students who have completed 100 or more hours of community service were also recognized with the President's Volunteer Service Award and special cords to wear at Commencement.

“GW’s reputation as an asset to the D.C. community is growing,” said Ms. Cohen. “We are increasingly using our faculty and student research and service to improve health, enhance education and revitalize the city.”

“Service learning is a mutually beneficial tool for both the student and the community and in an overarching sense, it strengthens the relationship of the university and the city of D.C.,” said Ms. Eddison. “Whenever possible, get students out of the classroom and into the field; treat them like grownups and they will exceed your expectations, guaranteed.”

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