Program: Religious Studies with a Concentration in Non-profit Management
Previous Education:PhD in Counseling Education and a Masters of Divinity
Professional Interest: Recruitment, retention, and leadership development and training. My ministry interest is to establish a non-profit that serves homeless and at-risk youth.
What inspired you to design a resource for homeless and at-risk youth?
I was inspired by need and service. While working in higher education in residential life, I observed more and more residents arriving to college homeless or becoming homeless because they could not afford to remain in campus housing or in school. After retiring, my initial thought was to start a nonprofit to create a living facility to offer year-round housing for homeless students. My focus shifted as I began to do research on homelessness in Georgia. My research revealed that Georgia (2017) had a growing homeless problem, that 6.9% of homeless students were unaccompanied (youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian), and that many of these youth were living in rural areas. I reasoned that a mobile digital space with the capacity to store confidential documents and provide access to resources that would allow homeless and at-risk youth to stay on track to graduate high school, attend college, and pursue vocational training could change the trajectory of their life.
What is Dream Machine?
The Dream Machine is a mobile-first website that connects homeless and at-risk youth to educational, financial, and community resources that support high school graduation, college attendance, and vocational training to increases their opportunity for long-term economic stability to make their dreams a reality.
Have there been any changes or developments to your plan since 2017?
Yes, there has been one major change from the initial concept of the site. I wanted one of the key features of the site to be cloud storage for confidential documents needed for applying and remaining in high school, college, or a vocational program. My research revealed that there were legal issues with providing this feature and it also revealed that the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides homeless liaisons throughout the state within all public high schools that can address this need. The project shifted to centralizing resources and support services that encouraged high school graduation, college attendance, and vocational training.
How is the mobile-first website development going?
The project has moved into a second phase. Technical development is close to being complete and I am currently reviewing and editing the written content of the site. We are close to going live to test the site.
How did the Student Innovation Fellowship Program assist you in your goals to make an online resource for homeless youth?
The Dream Machine is a project of the Student Innovation Fellowship Program (SIF). SIF accepted my proposal for the Dream Machine during the 2017-2018 academic year. A team of six fellows were assigned to the project (5 undergraduates & 1 graduate student) to bring the proposal into reality. At the end of spring 2018 an extension was given to continue the project into the 2018-19 academic year to complete the work on the site.
What made you decide to attend Georgia State University?
I was seeking a program that would allow me to combine my interest in religion with my desire to develop and manage a nonprofit. Georgia State University Department of Religious Studies offered a Master’s in Religious Studies with a concentration in Nonprofit Management. This program had the basics of what I was seeking, there were no other programs like it in the state.
What are the benefits to having an interdepartmental degree & concentration? What are the challenges?
The benefit for me was the opportunity to take the theory, methods, and practices of religious studies and translate them into the more practical discipline of nonprofit management. In real time I was able to observe the impact of religion on public policy and social programs that impacted the lives of homeless and at-risk youth, a population that I want to serve.
Are you working on any other projects?
Yes, I currently work two days a week with United Youth of America, a nonprofit that runs a paid apprenticeship program in the culinary arts for individuals 18+. The program is in its first year of a pilot program with the state. I work in management and program development. I am also completing federal articles of cooperation for my nonprofit Mending Broken Pieces, Inc.
What is your advice to students who want to make an impact in their community?
You don’t have to wait until you “get your degree;” once you identify what you want to do for your community, share it, be open, let others know what you desire to do, seek opportunities to begin where you are, and be flexible.
I would like to thank all of my professors in Religious Studies and Nonprofit Management and Social Enterprise for their instruction, challenges, and support. I would also like to give special thanks the members of the SIF team, Mr. Spencer Roberts, Dr. Molly Bassett, and my faculty advisor for the project Dr. Monique Moultrie. Their support and skills help a dream become reality!