Students in English Class Develop Proposals for Area Nonprofit

mhadc   By Emily Hollenbach '18
   In Fall 2015, students in Dr. Angela Laflen's Introduction to Professional Writing
   class worked with Mr. John Garrity, a Marist alumnus who graduated in 2009 with
   a major in History and a minor in Literature. Mr. Garrity now works as the Department
   Manager of Development and IT at Mental Health America in Dutchess County
   (MHADC), a nonprofit with programs in Poughkeepsie and Beacon that provides
   vital services to those experiencing mental illness. Drawing upon their writing and
   researching skills, students in the course worked in groups to draft 4 unique
   proposals, all of which focused on strengthening a specific aspect of MHADC.

   The collaboration among Dr. Laflen, her students, and Mr. Garrity was facilitated
   by Dr. Melissa Gaeke, the Director of Marist's Center for Civic Engagement and
   Leadership (CCEL). Mr. Garrity described his goal as "getting the word out about
MHADC in general, as well as publicizing 3 specific programs offered by the organization: Court-Appointed Special
Advocates (CASA) for at-risk children, Personalized Recovery Oriented Services (PROS) for individuals with mental illness,
and the Living Room at Mel's Place, which provides a welcoming space for homeless individuals and families.

Divided into 4 groups, the students spent 6 weeks conducting site visits and drafting business documents such as client
profiles and needs assessment reports. Guided by Dr. Laflen, students built upon smaller assignments in order to develop
workable, professional proposals. They presented their work to Mr. Garrity at the end of the semester.

mha   After much deliberation, Mr. Garrity decided that MHADC would implement
  one group’s proposal that CASA develop an internship program for college students
  in order to improve communication about its initiatives. He selected this proposal
  because it “focuses on internal communications and also tackles a lot of the
  objectives from the other proposals.” Mr. Garrity expressed his gratitude and
excitement for this project and said “since all of the goals presented to us were quite practical, I was pleased to select
one that could encompass them all.”

Student Molly Costello '17 noted the valuable pre-professional experience provided by the course: “The skills I learned
throughout the project will help me succeed in a future career in public relations.” The course created a bridge between
academic coursework and the world beyond college. As Dr. Laflen recounted, “I really wanted students to have a chance
to see professional writing principles in action and to be able to apply the information from class to a real organization.”

The opportunity to work with an organization addressing complex medical and social questions proved rewarding in its
own right. As Dr. Laflen asserts, “The fact that we learned, as a group, more about mental health issues wasn't
necessarily a primary goal for me at the outset but I think it was probably even more valuable in the end than the
professional writing content and may stick with students longer as well.”