Iowa State student spreads holiday joy through nonprofit protege program

AMES, Iowa -- In her spare time this fall, Iowa State University sophomore Rachel Owen shadowed the director of Beloit Residential Services in Ames to learn how nonprofits are managed. Now she's giving back by collecting toy-filled stockings for the children who reside there.

For the past four months, Owen and 11 other Iowa State students have participated in the Nonprofit Protégé Program coordinated by the Student Activities Center. They spend an hour or so each week learning about nonprofit organization and operations. Then they come up with a volunteer project to give back by increasing awareness, recruiting volunteers or fundraising.

One student is working on an evaluation for a financial literacy course given to local teachers, one created an internship for the organization and another student is creating a presentation for an organization's director to share information about a project.

Owen chose to help brighten the Christmas of the 50 children -- between the ages of 5 and 15 --living at Beloit where they receive intensive, individual rehabilitation and psychiatric treatment to overcome emotional and behavioral disorders.

Through Monday, Dec. 13, Christmas stockings filled with small toys, games, stickers, crafts, books, puzzles and stationery valued at about $15, can be dropped off at the East Student Office Space in the lower level of the Memorial Union.

"Growing up, we always did a lot of volunteering, like bell ringing for the Salvation Army," Owen said. "In high school I participated in a leadership program in Des Moines where I worked in different nonprofits. I decided that I'd like to work for a nonprofit rather than in industry or business."

Owen, an agronomy and global resource systems major from Ankeny, ultimately wants to work in international rural development in agricultural education. After only three semesters at Iowa State, she is well on her way to a career of service. Owen is co-executive director of the 10,000 Hours Show, a student organization that promotes volunteerism by helping recruit ISU students to work with Ames nonprofits. Last year, she served on the Veishea service day committee and now is co-chair of campus and community involvement on Veishea's executive board. And, she is active with Alpha Zeta, an honors co-educational fraternity in agriculture.

Through these activities, Owen learned about the Nonprofit Protégé Program from Jennifer Nissen, leadership and service coordinator for the Student Activities Center. She applied, was accepted and assigned to shadow Belinda Meis, director of Beloit Residential Services.

"We've talked about fundraising, advocacy, risk management and leadership strategies," Owen said. "My mentor Belinda is a really efficient leader. She runs meetings smoothly, is always prepared and can make decisions quickly. I've learned a lot about different leadership skills."

Meis sees "a great capacity for leadership and management" in Owen.

"It was exciting to see her apply ideas what we discussed in her activities with student initiatives and think about what she wants from a future employer," Meis said.

And while 50 kids at Beloit delve into their stockings stuffed with presents, Owen will be on her way to Ecuador for yet another learning experience in giving back.