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Students allocate money from the Sunshine Foundation to make local lives brighter

The Ithaca Free Clinic will soon be installing a computer system to keep track of patient visits and information -- thanks in part to the work of a class in Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

The system will largely be funded by a grant from the course Leadership in Nonprofit Environments (HE 407), taught this year by Joanne Florino, executive director of the Triad Foundation, and Diane Shafer, a board member of the United Way of Tompkins County. The course is designed to teach students about philanthropy and partners with the Sunshine Lady Foundation (founded by Doris Buffett, sister of investor Warren Buffett), which provides $10,000 for the students to allocate, and the United Way of Tompkins County, which manages the grant program. To date, the class has funneled $30,000 to the Ithaca community.

During the semester, the students are responsible for giving the money to local nonprofit organizations. Initially, they solicited grant proposals from the community and studied the nonprofit sector. In the last weeks of the course, they weighed the impact and importance of proposed projects and decided which proposals to fund. Buffett visited the class recently to hear the students' experiences.

This year, 24 health and human service agencies submitted grants requesting a total of more than $125,000. Four were chosen.

"The new computer system is really going to help us to understand who we are serving, how we are serving them, what needs they are bringing to our clinic," said Robert Brown, the Ithaca Free Clinic's office manager. "It will also allow us to communicate to explain to larger funders what we do and how we need to expand."

This year's other recipients are:

The class gives students a real-life view of the nonprofit world and a chance to give back to the community.

"In classes, you do a lot of analysis, but that doesn't typically translate into something real and palpable that helps people today," said Sheridan Reiger '10. "It was rewarding to be a part of something that has an immediate impact."

The Sunshine Lady Foundation is a private family foundation dedicated to breaking cycles of poverty, abuse and economic dependence through investment in education. This is the third year that the College of Human Ecology has offered the class. Past recipients include Offender Aid and Restoration, Lifelong, Northside/Southside Programs, Longview Lighting, Better Housing of Tompkins County, Tompkins County Senior Citizens and Tompkins County Action's Healthy Homes project.

Sheri Hall is assistant communications director for the College of Human Ecology.

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