Battle of the Valleys dinner unites GVSU with local charities

GVL / Emily Frye 
Student senate senator Sean OMelia on Nov. 19th.

GVL / Emily Frye Student senate senator Sean O’Melia on Nov. 19th.

Jess Hodge

After years of losing the fundraising competition to Saginaw Valley State University during Battle of the Valleys week in November, Grand Valley State University’s student senate set up a Laker Children’s Fund so students would know exactly where their donations were going.

On March 3, after trying to get the Laker Children’s Fund on its feet, student senate hosted a charity dinner with Grand Rapids community members to brainstorm ideas to get the Battle of the Valley’s (BOV) fund working.

Julia Sturvist, a student senator on the finance committee, reached out to eight nonprofit organizations that work with children around Grand Rapids to come to the dinner. In attendance were representatives from Kids Food Basket, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, Ele’s Place, Safe Haven Ministries, Children’s Assessment Center, HQ Grand Rapids, Family Promise of Grand Rapids and Family Future. The dinner was held to encourage collaboration between student senate and these organizations about possible ways for GVSU to promote and grow their Laker Children’s Fund.

Sean O’Melia, vice president of the campus affairs committee, heads up much of the BOV events and asked the community members at the dinner for help in promotion of the new fund.

“How do you think we should engage the community more to get more funds and give back to the community?” he said. “How do we try to make sure people are aware that we are giving money to the appropriate organizations and making sure we’re using the best of the funds and we’re keeping it growing for years and years to come?”

O’Melia said in theory, the idea of getting all 25,000 GVSU students to donate just $1 seemed doable, but he called it “impossible,” noting that it would be easier to try for larger donations from a smaller portion of people.

There were plenty of suggestions, ranging from using more social media to appealing more to professors that had outside connections and to partnering with former students for more donations.

Amy Herring, who works for Children’s Assessment Center, suggested giving donors a better idea of what, or who, their donations are supporting.

“Donors want to be invested in the organizations they are giving money to. People don’t want to just blindly give money,” she said. “Increasing your communication with people who are giving you money would be one step.”

The idea of more communication and promotion was the basis of the discussion over dinner. Many community members were honest with the GVSU student senate, noting that the fund wasn’t widely known.

Maddie Cleghorn, student senate president, said she felt one fund was easier to use, rather than picking a new organization to donate to each year.

“Instead of having to pick a different charity or a different organization every single year and re-educate students about where the money is going, instead now we have this one fund,” Cleghorn said. “Organizations, businesses, nonprofits that work with children in the area, can apply for mini-grants from this fund to receive support to help further your efforts in the community. The idea is that we can hopefully impact throughout the year more than just one charity.”