The walls of the auditorium in the Hurley Convergence Center at the University of Mary Washington were covered with sheets of chart paper, each with phrases scribbled on it.
“Make government and authority more accountable,” one read.
“Dealing with food waste,” read another. And a third asked, “How does gerrymandering affect you?”
Attendees of FRED–A Social Good Summit, a conference organized by University of Mary Washington students with the guidance of economics professor Shawn Humphrey, perused the giant post-its, choosing two to mark with colored stickers.
At the end of the activity, three topics had the most votes, indicated by the most number of stickers—“Affordable housing,” “Workforce development” and “Community acknowledgement of needs.”
The activity was a “lean coffee”—a democratic way for a group of people gathered without a leader to set an agenda and start talking.
It was the kick-off activity of the summit, which organizers hope will become an annual event bringing together educators, administrators, parents, local government officials, business leaders, community organizations and students to address complex community issues with innovative solutions.
“It arose out of our community mapping project, which identified community leaders,” said UMW student Tom Meldrum. “The goal was to invite them to this, talk to everyone and get an idea of the work being done in Fredericksburg. What are the strengths and what are some areas for improvement?”
Humphrey’s students previously established La Ceiba, a micro-finance organization that provided small loans to Hondurans struggling with poverty. La Ceiba shut down in 2017 and Humphrey challenged his students to come up with something to replace it.
“Our job was to find a new community to engage with and make sure we didn’t have the option to just leave,” said senior Hannah Rothwell. “And the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we had no business being anywhere other than [Fredericksburg].”
“Our role is not to come in to disrupt things, but bring people together and maybe they will let us help,” she continued. “We want to meet you!”
After the lean coffee and a lunchtime discussion about the selected topics, the summit’s centerpiece was the “match for good,” in which organizations and individuals working on a social good project could pitch that project and connect with partners willing to help.
About 100 people registered for the conference, which was held March 22, and 23 people pitched projects during the match for good, Humphrey said.
Christian Zammas, chef and owner of Katora Coffee downtown, pitched his concept for the Katora Institute, which he wants to help single men transition out of homelessness.
“There are a lot of resources for families and women, but not much for single men,” Zammas said.
Mike Murphy and Daniel Mintz with Repower REC, a grassroots coalition of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative member-owners working in partnership with Solar United Neighbors of Virginia, presented the group’s efforts to promote a more transparent and democratic cooperative.
“We want to get the conversation started about energy, how we consume and produce it,” Murphy said. “We believe that people who purchase electricity need to have more of a voice.”
Other pitches included middle and high school students from Fredericksburg city schools, who sought community partners for their cumulative International Baccalaureate projects.
“One of the big factors [of the IB program] is the idea of service as action,” said Quincy Crecelius Click, school division coordinator for the IB Middle Years program. “So we brought along some students just finishing their projects this year and some who are getting ready for next year.”
Karen Kallay with the Rappahnanock Area National Alliance on Mental Illness said she wanted to attend the summit partly to network with other organizations, but also to create connections with UMW students.
“We really would like to involve UMW faculty and students in reaching out to other young people about mental health, especially about schizophrenia,” Kallay said. “Because the age when it hits is the early 20s, and the best way to connect is with a peer.”
FRED–A Social Good Summit was also sponsored by UMW’s new Center for Community Engagement.
“Work like this helps us realize UMW’s role as a public institution with civic responsibilities,” said Leslie Martin, a sociology professor who was recently named faculty director of the center. “It also helps us build just and sustainable communities, as well as equipping our students with a wide range of skills and experiences to remain civically engaged throughout their lives.”