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SIFE Juggles Five Community Projects
December 13, 2007

The Calvin chapter of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) has launched five community projects during the fall semester.

Calvin SIFE team teaching computer classesSIFE is a nonprofit organization which promotes free enterprise on college and university campuses in over 40 countries around the world. The Calvin chapter of SIFE, one of 950 in the United States, was founded three years ago.

SIFE at Calvin—like SIFE anywhere—is a student team that partners with both major corporations and local organizations on community-development projects targeting five educational goals: Market Economics, Success Skills, Entrepreneurship, Financial Literacy and Business Ethics.

“The SIFE teams on these campuses are free to base their project on the need that’s in the community,” said Calvin senior and chapter president Keziah Samuel. “Every one of our projects is needs based.”

A case in point is “Sense with Cents,” a project which features SIFE members teaching four weeks of financial literacy classes to residents of Grand Rapids at North End Community Ministry. “Sense with Cents” was originally created and taught by last year’s SIFE team in response to surveys they conducted at the ministry. “We found that a lot of the people we surveyed were in debt, and a lot of them didn’t know how to budget,” Samuel said.

The Calvin team teaches classes in budgeting, savings and investing, strategies for getting out of debt and interviewing techniques. Through a sponsorship with Sam's Club, the team is able to offer incentives such as groceries and personal health care items to encourage attendance and good scores on quizzes. This year’s “Sense with Cents” classes have had twice the enrollment of last year’s classes.

Corporate sponsorship is integral to SIFE projects, said Samuel: “SIFE is supported by over 200 donor companies—companies such as Walgreen’s, CVS, Walmart—that you find in every community.” The corporate involvement also has benefits for the SIFE teams, she said, because the sponsoring companies offer full-time jobs and internships at several career fairs that they hold throughout the year for SIFE members.

Because another SIFE requirement is monitoring the impact of a project in the community, the Calvin team administered quizzes to gauge their project’s efficacy. “From day one to the fourth week that we taught, we saw significant improvement in knowledge for all our clients” Samuel said.

This year, in addition to teaching “Sense with Cents,” the Calvin SIFE team also pioneered projects geared to the other SIFE objectives:

The team is teaching computer skills, also at North End Community Ministry, in a class titled “Re-wire Your Hard-Drive.” The class, which falls into SIFE’s Success Skills category, teaches a range of computer basics. “Through surveys, we found out that some people didn’t know how to use a computer at all, and some wanted to learn some specific skills in Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word or PowerPoint for their jobs. We helped with anything they needed,” Samuel said. The class draws people aged 20 to 65, she said: “We have a very diverse age group. We even have grandmas and grandpas who want to learn to send their grandkids an e-mail!”

A third project, geared to the Success Skills category partners SIFE with United Church Outreach Ministries (UCOM), where the team teaches ex-offenders to write resumes. “It’s great for our students because they’re learning how to write their own resumes in the process as well” Samuel said.  Although the UCOM project is currently unsponsored, the team is in the process of applying for gas cards and bus passes for the clients to use for transportation to the ministry.

The Calvin SIFE team has also developed a program called “Bizkidz” at Hall Elementary School, teaching fourth through sixth grader the basics of business. The project, which fulfills the Market Economics category, guides teams of young entrepreneurs on how to market a chosen product—in this case, cookies. “We teach them how to pick a right product, how to set a price, and how to differentiate the product from their competitors” Samuel said.

To fulfill the Entrepreneurship category, Calvin SIFE members are trying to raise the profile the local Indian restaurant Flavors of India through a marketing campaign. The team is passing out student discount cards and a special holiday card at local malls to drum up business. “We are trying to measure the results and evaluate the increase in attendees based on our advertising campaigns” Samuel said. To fulfill the Business Ethics category, the team will bring in a speaker to talk about entrepreneurship and ethics from a Christian standpoint.

The multiple projects have the Calvin SIFE team working throughout the semester. “We have quite a challenge in trying to get students committed because it’s all volunteer efforts in the end” Samuel said, adding that the Calvin SIFE chapter has quadrupled in size since last year.

The SIFE chapter is a life-changing opportunity for students, she said. “It gives you a very unique opportunity to serve your community. Most of our clientele has never been to school, and a lot of them have told us how life-changing it has been for them. Without a doubt, it helps you too. It helps you to grow as you deal with different people and interact with a variety of cultures. And you get to interact with a great community of people in the SIFE organization through the training sessions and conferences as well.”

Calvin business professor Aba Mpesha agreed: “It has revolutionized those who have gotten involved, given them confidence, opened up opportunities for learning how businesses are conducted, challenged them into innovations and introduced them to employment opportunities.”

During second semester, the group will concentrate on preparing for the SIFE regional competition in March, 2008, but it’s not merely the zeal to win driving them, Samuel insisted: “When you actually go and complete these projects and see the smiles on your clients faces, it’s worth it all. I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she said “When a client says to you: ‘Thank you. I’ve learned something that will change my life,’ that’s the biggest joy you get out of it.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson


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