Leadership students engage in community experience

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Friday, nearly 800 K-State leadership students completed a project aimed at hunger and food security in Manhattan and the Riley County area, according to Kerry Priest, assistant professor in leadership studies.

According to the Staley School of Leadership Studies, LEAD 212: Introduction to Leadership Concepts invites students to think about what leadership is, how the world needs it and how to continue personal development in leadership. One part of the curriculum is the Community Leadership Experience, a project spanning nine weeks that is an opportunity for students to exercise leadership and make progress toward food security in Riley County.

“What is important in the study and development of leadership is a pedagogy of practice,” Priest said. “We aren’t just teaching about leadership, we are exercising leadership to learn leadership, and what the Community Leadership Experience does is it provides an opportunity for students to integrate their own awareness of self and develop their ability to work as a group for an issue that is important to our world, and specifically to our community.”

Students worked together over the past few weeks and executed their own approach to help solve hunger and food insecurity in the the Riley County area. Their methods included public education opportunities, such as conversations with Manhattan residents or distributing flyers with information about the issue of food security, and opportunities to collect food donations from shoppers at local grocery stores, according to information provided by the school.

A partner in the project is the Flint Hills Breadbasket, a community food network that was established to help alleviate hunger and poverty in Riley County. According to the Staley School of Leadership Studies, a partnership has existed between the school and the Flint Hills Breadbasket for over 10 years in the form of a project known as “Cats 4 Cans.” This project, originally centered around food donations, has grown to become the Community Leadership Experience project.

“I hope that (students) understand that Manhattan looks so prosperous, and it is prosperous, but there’s the hidden poverty line that sits behind that that isn’t always out there for people to see,” Maribeth Kieffer, executive director of the Flint Hills Breadbasket, said about what she hopes students have learned during the project.

Kieffer said there are some incorrect views of Breadbasket attendees but that it has not prevented the Breadbasket from helping those in need and growing as an organization.

“I think one of the things that we try to tell people all the time is sometimes there’s a misconception that they’re just people who don’t want to work, and that’s not the case,” Kieffer said. “In 2011 we were helping about 11,000 people. Now we’re up to around 25,000-27,000 people.”

Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” According to statistics gathered by Feeding America in 2013, almost 19 percent of people living in Riley County are considered “food insecure.”

Priest said that throughout the project, the curriculum in LEAD 212 has focused on how students can exercise their own styles of leadership and apply them toward a much larger goal.

“I think it is important for them to learn how to serve the community, even if they have only been here for a couple weeks,” Arissa Moyer, senior in agribusiness, said. “Everyone can relate to food security in some way because we all want to strive to make the world a better place.”

Moyer said she serves as a class leader for LEAD 212 and helps students understand the topics discussed in class, in addition to facilitating learning in a smaller group of 11 students.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the potential that is in my small group,” Karl Wilhelm, freshman in agribusiness, said at the beginning of the project. “I see all of these great leaders and how they want to put together one single task to help the community. We would like to definitely reach out in more ways than just going door-to-door.”

Wilhelm said his hope was that his fellow students would understand the meaning behind volunteering in the community.

“I hope my classmates think about how community service isn’t just volunteering your time, it actually has a meaningful experience behind each and every thing,” Wilhelm said. “Maybe today they will be helping with ‘Cats 4 Cans,’ but later in the future they will be helping with mission trips or starting their own programs.”

Last fall, donations totaled 14,172 pounds of food, according to data gathered from the Staley School of Leadership Studies. This food went to individuals and families during the winter holiday season.

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