BLOOMINGTON — Southern Indiana’s nonprofit organizations in need of a boost during the COVID-19 pandemic have a new resource at Indiana University Bloomington.
The Student Agile Response Team, known as START, leverages the energy and skills of IU Bloomington’s students along with the leadership and guidance of faculty and staff to meet the challenges faced by local organizations. From design, strategy, planning and communication to sustainability guidance, K-12 tutoring and mental health resources, the START initiative draws upon the expertise of every school on campus to create customized and multidisciplinary solutions.
“The Student Agile Response Team is a safe, innovative way to connect our students with professional development opportunities at community organizations in Indiana communities,” said IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel. “Our nonprofits need us now more than ever, and participating students can expand their skills while supporting the greatest needs of our neighbors.”
START is an initiative of IU Corps in partnership with the IU Center for Rural Engagement and all 16 schools on the IU Bloomington campus.
START formed in response to COVID-19, as the pandemic upturned business and nonprofit operations across the state, greatly impacting smaller, rural organizations. As the program launched, with support from faculty and staff representatives across campus, students immediately began tackling projects including local flu shot clinic assistance, community garden land research, technology consultation and fundraising, design, media and marketing support for nonprofits.
Among those early projects, the Owen County Community Foundation connected with START for assistance converting to virtual meetings when public health officials advised against meeting in person. The foundation was paired with a graduate student from the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering who is offering advice on manageable upgrades to help the group safely reconnect the group with its constituents and partners.
“The needs in our community are great, and COVID has impacted not only how we work, but has increased our workload,” said Owen County Community Foundation administrative director Maria O’Connor. “At the request of our board chair, we teamed up with START, allowing us to keep doing our good work providing grants to the community, while our assigned student took the burden of researching technology upgrades off of our plate. The student listened to us and came back with a plan to fit our budget and our needs. This was one of the easiest intern processes that I have experienced.”
While many of the incoming project ideas focus on emergent needs brought on by the pandemic, program leaders anticipate that the connections made through START projects will flourish beyond the current crisis.
“We’re looking forward to long-term partnerships and being a really good neighbor in our region,” said Cassi Winslow-Edmonson, IU Corps director.
The START advisory committee reviews project requests during the first week of each month. Organizations can view START skills and submit project requests at https://iucorps.indiana.edu/partners/cart.html.