Christina Be.

Project SHARE has a very valuable mission that people can easily identify with. They are a food pantry that wants to feed the hungry within Carlisle. Not only do the recipients of this aid get balanced nutritional meals, but they themselves participate in different jobs throughout the month, so that they are not just receiving charity, but they are then aiding their neighbors as well as themselves. This is a cause that just about anybody can relate to and is a strength for their non-profit organization. Local churches feel an obligation to aid SHARE, and in this way, they receive much of their monthly tangible donations. The program is ran by individuals who greatly believe in their mission, and who inspire those around them to join in the campaign. They are inventive, and personable, so they do manage to reach out to a rather large number of people in Carlisle, and they do appear to be affecting lives for the better, though the paper evidence is hard to come by.

I think that this was a valuable experience, even though I feel like we did not really accomplish much. I went into this service-learning thinking that I was going to complete a big worthwhile project. Instead, we only managed to create an Excel program. But it taught me how difficult it can be to be a manager. There are so many obstacles that get in the way of the actual act of helping people. I think that I brought some fresh ideas to SHARE, as well as a desire to make their work easier and more efficient. Ideas about accountability and evaluation were planted in my mind from class, and discussing these ideas with Elaine and Pam hopefully helped them realize where change was necessary. I feel that while I brought ambition and a drive for change to SHARE, I was also enthused by the women that I worked with. I saw their interactions with the people that they help every week, and I can now understand how they continue to work there, putting all of themselves into a project that can feel so frustrating. There are no guarantees in this sector. Though I had not been very interested in a management position before, I do feel that it is something that I could be interested in in the future.

Putting in the service learning hours at Project SHARE really brought the readings and lectures from class to life for me. I read about the problems that these organizations face, and how difficult it is to stay true to your mission and maintain integrity while seeking financial security. I learned the importance of having systems of checks and balances within a board and the CEO of a nonprofit, as well as being accountable to the community and other constituents. Working with Elaine and Pam taught me just how difficult it is for a nonprofit to get the kind of money that they need to successfully run their program. Grants are often elusive; you may be rewarded the grant one or more times, and then out of the blue, you’ll be rejected. The guest speakers often spoke about the very issues that I witnessed during my hours. This was such a good way to bring the abstract into reality.

We started working on a spread sheet for Elaine and Pam to use. Neither Anna or myself have much experience with Excel, but we are quickly picking it up. We created a basic sheet with all of the donors, and all of the grant status information, like when it is due, if it was rejected or not, how much money they requested, etc. We took it to Elaine today, and she gave us her feed back. She asked that we change it in a few ways, and we plan on taking care of that later on this week. We also decided that we want to make this program something that they can easily add information from the past to, as well as future years to come. So we made a different tab for each year within the spreadsheet. This seems like it is going to be an effective system of keeping track of grants.

I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that we can not “fix” Project SHARE. This may sound silly, but a lot of my frustration was stemming from the fact that I felt we weren’t doing anything productive. But I’ve begun to see that even doing this one thing may help them get on the right track. Organization is going to come slowly. So we’ve created on little spread sheet, but it may help them get their grant proposals in on time, and that could make a big difference.

Again, this got me thinking about effectiveness. Elaine is a driving force behind SHARE, but she needs to think of ways to measure the organization’s effectiveness on its constituents. This can partially be measured simply through an alternative way of organizing information: how many people they are feeding, how long these people continue to come to receive food, how many of them end up being able to sustain their own food supply after frequenting Project SHARE. I hope that we started Elaine down the right path with this Excel spread sheet.

Anna and I compiled a list of all of the regular and one-time donors. We entered the amount of money that was donated and the dates that the applications were sent in. This list was not very extensive, because there were a lot of gaps in the information. We felt like we were also probably missing a lot of information because the filing system is so inadequate. There is no real system there, and it felt like looking for a needle in a haystack. We are still hoping to actually write a grant proposal so that S.H.A.R.E. can get some money for their projects. The problem is that due to their lack of an inventory system, they are not able to be audited, therefore they are ineligible for a lot of grants. This is problematic.

We are getting to see an interesting side of this non-profit, though, I will say that. I never realized just how difficult it was to get things done before, but now I’m seeing it firsthand. But even as I say this, I realize that Project S.H.A.R.E. is pretty effective at doing what it does. They feed a lot of people with the food they receive from churches every month, plus other donors. I guess what I really wonder is how effective they really could be, if they shaped up their ship. They need to be able to be audited, because right now they really don’t have much accountability. This is holding them back.

Accountability and evaluation is a serious issue here at Project S.H.A.R.E. If you go into the office and ask for information, any information at all, you see confusion and get mixed responses. Most of the time, they tell you that they do not really have that information in any sort of accessible system, and that you would have to go digging through the files to get it. Don’t even get me started on the files. This is a serious problem. This is difficult for Anna and I, but the consequences are really hindering Elaine and company. They do not have statistics to show potential donors telling them how effective their food pantry is. They don’t have an accurate way of keeping track of how much food comes into their warehouse, with the exception of the notepad and tally method. This makes gaining support difficult, at least from the business sector. But who is S.H.A.R.E accountable to? They can not even begin to evaluate their effectiveness as this level of disorganization.

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