A special marketing class at the University of Toledo funded through a grant from 3M Co. will be developing a sales and marketing plan for a Lucas County nonprofit organization that helps abused and neglected children find safe and permanent homes.
John Bebeau, a businessman and instructor of the class, said about 10 universities nationwide are chosen for the annual 3M program, which focuses on teaching students to create plans to engage consumers who are typically considered impoverished.
“Business often ignores them because they perceive they don’t have any purchasing power,” Mr. Bebeau said. “Those people do have needs that aren’t being met, and it challenges businesses to come up with new, innovative ways ways to serve those markets.”
It’s UT’s third year participating in the program. Last year, students developed a marketing plan to sell an electricity-generating soccer ball in the Philippines.
This year, they took a different approach, choosing to work with Lucas County CASA. The acronym stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate.
The organization relies on volunteers to serve as investigators, advocates, and monitors for children who have been removed from their homes by the court system.
CASA took on 651 new cases last year, and generally has about 1,000 open cases. Eighty percent of the children they work with are under the age of 12, with an average age of 5.
“One thing we definitely are hoping will happen is a community awareness about CASA that will cause volunteers to step forward,” said Judy Leb, the training coordinator for Lucas County CASA.
Volunteers go through 40 hours of training before being sworn in as officers of the court. They’re assigned a case in which they serve as the guardian ad litem for all court proceedings. Volunteers are assigned to do an independent investigation and make recommendations to the court on what is best for the child.
Ms. Leb said it can be uncomfortable to talk with people about child abuse.
“I think that child abuse is a very difficult topic and people often don’t want to hear about it. It’s so awful that those are the stories in the newspaper they don’t read. They turn away from the topic, and I understand that.”
Still, the organization needs more volunteers. Ms. Leb said CASA has more than 200, but its still only able to take less than half of all cases originating in the county. The remainder are assigned to attorneys who go through the same 40-hour training.
Mr. Bebeau said UT representatives chose CASA because they saw a very real need. The class of 19 students will work on identifying potential volunteers, then go out and present ideas about how people can increase the interest in volunteering. They’ll also be reaching out to employers and asking them to either donate funding or encourage employees to volunteer.
“I think it’s something students will be able to have a positive impact on,” Mr. Bebeau said.
The ultimate goal is not just to create a one-time initiative, but to build a sustainable program that can continue after the class concludes.
Ms. Leb admits volunteering at CASA is unlike any other kind of volunteering — but she says its worth it.
“It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility, but it’s also making a tremendous difference in these kids’ lives,” she said.
At the end of the semester, the UT students will present their work to 3M executives at the company’s St. Paul headquarters.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.