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Nighthawk Community Connector links UNG with community groups

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Catherine Rosborough-Whitney, founder and director of The Connection, reached out to UNG to determine if the campus community had access to resources similar to the ones her organization provides. Instead, she discovered UNG had resources her organization needed.

During her time as a director of a national nonprofit in Florida, Dr. Sarah Young faced many challenges, but one in particular puzzled her.

"I needed someone skilled in social work, but I had no idea who to reach out to," the assistant professor of political science at the University of North Georgia (UNG) said. "I had a need that I knew the local university could fill. So I just started calling phone numbers off of the website."

Then an idea struck Young. What if she could devise a system that would link nonprofits with a local university's resources and its students, faculty and staff?

The idea came to fruition for Young in Florida. When she relocated to UNG last year, Young helped launch a similar online program at UNG called the Nighthawk Community Connector, which is housed in UNG's Office of Research and Engagement.

The online portal's functions are two-fold. For UNG faculty, staff and students, it connects them with community organizations for teaching, research and service-learning purposes. For the community partners, it streamlines their efforts to request assistance from the university and helps them engage with the UNG community.

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The Nighthawk Community Connector allows nonprofit groups, like the ones who attend the annual Volunteer Fair, to unite with UNG's resources as well as its students, faculty and staff.

On the Nighthawk Community Connector, both entities have access to the portal with one category for UNG faculty and staff and one for community organizations. Users answer a few questions and fill out an information sheet of their detailed needs. Once the information is submitted, Young matches the community partner with UNG faculty, staff and students.

While the connector only activated in January 2019, users are pleased with the results.

One is Catherine Rosborough-Whitney, founder and director of The Connection. The nonprofit unites individuals in recovery from addiction with resources to help them become and stay sober.

"Our recovery center is a connection for people who are in recovery," she said. "So it seemed like a natural fit to use the Nighthawk Community Connector."

Rosborough-Whitney originally reached out to determine if UNG's campus community had access to resources similar to her organization. But the UNG faculty member paired with Rosborough-Whitney's nonprofit came as a surprise.

"When we met with Dr. Sarah Young, she talked about a way to help us develop our nonprofit," Rosborough-Whitney said. "She said she could provide students who could help devise our nonprofit business model and develop our five-year strategic plan."

Rosborough-Whitney said she did not know UNG provided those kinds of options.

"It was a dream come true for us, because as a nonprofit we don't have the money to pay people to do this for us," she said. "But these students will do it for free."

UNG students, however, will benefit through its service-learning element. Young explained her graduate students in Master of Public Administration program will learn how to build a strategic plan in class and put their knowledge into action for the nonprofit. At the project's end, students will have real-world examples for their resumes and an inside knowledge of the nonprofit realm.

"It's a win-win," Young said. "My students get the experience they need and the nonprofit gets the pro-bono support they need."

The Nighthawk Community Connector provides more than service-learning opportunities. It also offers nonprofits a way to connect with students searching for places to volunteer.

For example, Girls on the Run of North Georgia needed volunteers to lead their curriculum. Through the connector portal, they were paired with UNG's women's cross-country team.

"It's nonprofit that helps develop leadership skills in young women and build confidence through running," Young said. "So we shared their needs with the student volunteers from the leadership council and the women's cross-country team. It was a successful match."

Young hopes the Nighthawk Community Connector will lead to more volunteer and service-learning opportunities in the future. Rosborough-Whitney said she plans to spread the word.

"There is nothing like experiential learning," she said.

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