Nonprofit organizations do a lot of the heavy lifting in communities, and there are 1.5 million of them registered in the United States. Shelby Holmes '20 is working to help nonprofit organizations identify and meet needs in her own backyard, with the support of Davidson alumni.
Holmes worked throughout the summer and fall semesters with GreenLight Fund Charlotte, an organization whose aim is to bring one new non-profit to the city each year. The nonprofit chosen must demonstrate a history of success in other markets and tackle issues not currently being addressed in the area. This year, the organizations in the running focus on issues including asset-building for low-income families and reducing early childhood trauma.
Holmes' on-campus experiences prepared her to contribute to the mission of GreenLight Fund Charlotte.
"I took a class called Power and Politics [taught by Sociology Professor Natalie Delia Deckard], and it completely changed the way I think about the world," said Holmes, a sociology and gender and sexuality studies double major. "We talk about the ways systems and institutions replicate patterns of oppression. I've always been interested in nonprofit and service work, but my majors have supported how I look at that. It's more complicated than simply wanting to help people."
Alumni from the class of 1968 are behind Holmes' experience with GreenLight Fund Charlotte. The class' 50th reunion goal to support students committed to service led the class to provide financial support for one of the Nonprofit Leadership Fellows, a program of Davidson's Center for Civic Engagement. With more than $210,000 contributed to date by class of 1968 members, the aim is a $400,000 endowment that would make it possible to support several students in nonprofit fellowships every summer.
The Nonprofit Leadership Fellows program is an internship experience for a cohort of students, which combines nonprofit work in the greater Charlotte area with a curriculum to explore nonprofit management, social justice and theories of social change.
Carrie Cook, the founding executive director of GreenLight Fund Charlotte, said Holmes was such an asset to the organization last summer that Cook extended the partnership with Holmes through the fall semester.
"GreenLight works at the intersection of innovation and community needs, so having a student like Shelby with an innovative perspective and tools is valuable to our team," Cook said. "Not only is Shelby a joy to be around, but she brings a great aptitude to critical thinking, analyzing research and synthesizing information. She is well equipped with knowledge and experiences to be an awesome leader in whatever path she chooses beyond Davidson."
Holmes grew up near Asheville, North Carolina, but attended high school at a boarding school in Raleigh, in search of new challenges and experiences. She considered an out-of-state college experience, but her guidance counselor suggested she check out Davidson.
Holmes earned the Belk Scholarship, and it was her visit during an on-campus weekend for scholarship finalists when she finally felt that Davidson was where she belonged.
"I'm so challenged and inspired by the people around me," she said. "Being able to have the freedom to try and fail in academic and non-academic spaces is new to me and special about Davidson."
After a year on campus, Holmes spent two consecutive semesters in Stockholm, Sweden, to broaden her worldview.
Her experience with the GreenLight Fund has provided a local, yet equally impactful, experience.
"We're working to fill gaps in the Charlotte ecosystem, not in a competitive way, but in a way that uplifts other organizations at the same time," said Holmes. "We started reviewing the applications of 30 organizations that have succeeded in at least two other markets, and in the end, one organization will be chosen. It's teaching me a lot about research and applied methods, building upon research I'm doing with Dr. Deckard."
Deckard, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Assistant Professor, teamed up with Holmes to complete a project on the criminalization of sexual violence and the way reports are made to the police. Most recently, Holmes has been working alongside Deckard, current senior Laney O'Shea and Katie Horowitz, assistant professor of gender & sexuality studies and writing, to study sexual harassment within the academy.
"The research I've done on campus can be heavy," said Holmes. "The work at GreenLight is about providing solution-oriented investments that can have tangible impact. It's very cool to be a part of that at age 19."
George Shaw '68 and Cecil Clifton '68 did not experience the deep commitment to service that Davidson students have today, and it inspires them to support students who are interested in making a difference.
Around the time of the class' 45th reunion, Shaw and Clifton formed a steering committee with several classmates, and the group partnered with staff and other alumni to spearhead and guide DavidsonServes for Life, a program that encourages alumni, parents and friends to remain committed to service, particularly during National Volunteer Week each spring. The program has seen significant growth since its inception, with the next volunteer week planned for April 7-13, 2019.
"What happens in the classroom and what happens outside of the classroom are equally valuable," Clifton said. "As a student, one time, a group of us went out and raked leaves at a church. We were so excited to do something. There was a real disconnect between education and how it applied to the world -- our curriculum was excellent, but it was all about academics. Today, there isn't that barrier. Everything students learn is connected to why it matters and how they can make a difference."
"Davidson is radically different today when it comes to the focus on service, too," said Shaw. "Personally, I really wish I'd gone to Davidson in the last 10 years."
Clifton was quick to reply, "If we could've gotten in."
The service-minded friends are deeply grateful for how Davidson prepared them to think. Championing this Nonprofit Leadership Fellows Class of 1968 Internship Fund and other Davidson-centric programs comes naturally -- they want to help students who follow in their Wildcat footsteps. And they believe alumni service starts the first day of a student's first year.
"Every class has reason to believe it is the best," Clifton said with a smile, "but we have real reason to believe it. Our friendships and connections are special, and we are proud to be giving back."
Learn more about the summer Nonprofit Leadership Fellows Program.