Feb 152005
Authors: Anne Farrell

While some students wait until after graduation to make their mark on the world, Betsy Meredith is ahead of the crowd.

She is founder and president of the World Orphan Connection.

Meredith was inspired by her two brothers' volunteer work in Russia with Patch Adams, founder of the Gesundheit! Institute, to return to school and attempt to make a difference in her community.

"I came to believe that making a difference on this earth was more important than money," said Meredith, a junior political science major.

During her first semester at CSU, Meredith formulated a business plan and began to attract the attention of others. Beginning in 2003, the World Orphans Connection went from conception to foundation within nine months. Steven Fassnacht, professor in the College of Natural Resources, became fascinated with the idea and agreed to act as faculty supervisor for students willing to do research for the project.

"Through this project we are offering students the opportunity to research and collect information on a very important cause," Fassnacht said. "I think that this project will fit within the mandates of this university and can develop as an important collaboration with the university."

Students involved in research for the foundation receive credit for geography and independent study good toward an International Development Certificate. Researchers are assigned to two countries to research the orphan situations and meet 10 to 12 times per semester to discuss progress and problems.

"It seems critical to me that development students get some hands-on experience working with development issues and I feel this is a great way to do so," said Amanda Griffith, a senior liberal arts major involved with the program.

The World Orphan Connection is working to attain enough information to establish a Web site and now, in its third semester, has big plans for the future. Its initial goal is to raise money worldwide for credible organizations but is currently lacking in funding.

Eventually the organization intends to continue to maintain a campus connection and eventually grow into an instrument for other nonprofit organizations to network and share success stories. The connection is focusing on "Abraham's Project," an organization in Costa Rica, as its pilot project and intends to create a campaign video airing next December to raise funds.

"This class allowed me to combine my passion for serving orphans with the work needed to build WOC. Also, to know that we weren't just receiving three more credits toward a degree but in a small way changing the world made the class so rewarding. The research is challenging and time consuming, but it taught me a great deal about research techniques and methods that have since been very helpful for other classes," said Katie Borchert, a senior sociology major.

Students involved with the connection find it an important asset to their education because it is a full-fledged nonprofit. In addition to course credits, researchers receive real-life experience in a classroom setting. Students are allowed to take their learning out of the university realm and use it in a forum they are passionate for. Volunteers are needed from all fields, with the hope of giving an avenue for students to bring talents to the table and be put to good work.

"This seems to be a very worthy cause and I wanted to assist to enable this to happen," said Cecily Miller, a senior political science major and two-semester volunteer.

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