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NIU Today | 40TUDE students help Opportunity DeKalb seize the moment

When Chad Glover helped Northern Illinois University create the 40TUDE student consulting teams, he believed that they could achieve the twin goals of giving students real-world experience while providing a service to the community.

Now, as community coordinator of Opportunity DeKalb, he is seeing that vision come to fruition.

Opportunity DeKalb is a nonprofit community development corporation established to see that the city’s 2019 Annie Glidden North Revitalization Plan is enacted. The plan calls for improving public safety; jump-starting housing and commercial development; improving infrastructure; and enhancing social services in and around the neighborhood. The goal is to create a safer, more livable environment for full-time residents as well as the thousands of NIU students who live in or near the area. A list of 10 transformational goals can be found on the group’s website.

NIU has been involved with Opportunity DeKalb from its beginnings and the existing board of directors includes many current and retired members of the NIU community. As a result, the group has been on the lookout for opportunities for NIU faculty and students to get involved.

When members of the Opportunity DeKalb board looked ahead to this spring Give DeKalb County event, they saw such a chance. The success of the one-day, online fundraiser relies primarily on social media and email campaigns, which the board realized was not an area of ​​strength for them. Enter 40TUDE Nonprofit.

Established in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, 40TUDE was intended to assist businesses and not-for-profit agencies struggling to survive. The program is operated jointly by NIU’s Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development; the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and the College of Business. This semester, 40TUDE Nonprofit, which is managed by the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies, employs seven paid student consultants, while 40TUDE Business employs three paid student consultants.

Two students working on the Opportunity DeKalb project, Juliana Casner and Emma Hazen, both have been with 40TUDE Nonprofit from the start. Combined, they have worked on projects for more than 20 nonprofits in DeKalb County, the Rockford area and the city and suburbs of Chicago.

The experience has been invaluable, say the students, both juniors, who hope to work for nonprofit organizations after graduation. “It feels like a lot of the skills we have been learning will make us better candidates to go out and handle the challenges of the real world,” Casner says.

The students have spent the last several weeks examining Opportunity DeKalb’s social media efforts so far, and devising a plan to leverage those tools for the greatest benefit. Their goal is to double the amount of money that Opportunity DeKalb raised last year.

Every project that Casner and Hazen have tackled has come with its own set of challenges, and that is true of their work with Opportunity DeKalb.

“This project is much more involved than many of the others that we have worked on,” says Hazen, who pointed out that the organization is so young that she and Casner are creating processes and procedures, rather than just reviewing and adjusting existing operations.

The Give DeKalb County project is just the latest in a long list of collaborations between Opportunity DeKalb and NIU departments and classes. Students have helped create a communications plan for the organization; conducted surveys of neighborhood residents; assisted in the creation of a chapter of Girls on the Run, which is based in the neighborhood; and developed the organization’s website. A student in the Master’s in Public Administration program also spent a year assisting Opportunity DeKalb.

“The people power, expertise and resources that NIU can bring to bear are awesome,” Glover says. “We are incredibly grateful for the university’s involvement in the work to improve the Annie Glidden North neighborhood, especially the work of students. When students get the chance to make meaningful contributions to the improvement of the area, it solidifies their relationship with the community, which in itself will have long-term benefits.”

Glover is eager to continue working with NIU faculty and students, and invites anyone interested in assisting the efforts of Opportunity DeKalb to contact him at chadglover@opportunitydekalb.org.

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