Students overcome pandemic’s challenges to grant a “Wish” – and learn a lesson.

Students overcome pandemic’s challenges to grant a “Wish” – and learn a lesson.

Students overcome pandemic’s challenges to grant a “Wish” – and learn a lesson.

In a year marked by isolation and crisis, a class taught by Donald Roomes, an FIU Business teaching professor of international business, brought over 125 students together to raise over $9,000, funding a dream for a local wish child with a critical illness.

Each year, Roomes’ class delivers lessons in creating, managing, and evaluating a service-learning project. This class was divided into teams, with each choosing a community agency serving a need and documenting a plan to serve that need.

In normal times, the focus is on hands-on, in-person work with an organization, in addition to a paper and group presentation on the learning outcome. Yet two weeks into the fall 2020 semester, students found that due to COVID-19, in-person visits to organizations were restricted, and many students weren’t comfortable going into the community.

At that point, as he does each semester, Roomes brought in a speaker to give students a first-hand look at the impact of service: Erin Briede, a volunteer at Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, which raises money to grant wishes for children with critical illnesses, such as a trip with family or a meeting with a hero. Speaking virtually to the class, with about 20 students in person and the rest remote, Briede shared the story of Lorenzo, a 7-year-old Disney fan stricken with lymphoblastic leukemia, and his dream of visiting the Aulani Resort in Hawaii.

Briede, an active Make-A-Wish volunteer who had presented to Roomes’ class before, had some trepidation about presenting over Zoom. All that changed as her presentation closed.

“The chat started blowing up with students’ questions: what can we do? how can we help?” she said. Meanwhile, Roomes noted, “Some in the classroom had tears in their eyes.”

When Briede offered the option of engaging in a $5,000 Make-A-Wish campaign to sponsor Lorenzo’s wish, the teams in Roomes’ class signed on, committing to raise a minimum of $500 per team. They chose a variety of tactics, from a socially distanced car wash and a gift basket raffle to a donut sale, with some teams getting corporate matches for donations. Team leaders met regularly as a group to coordinate the larger goal.

The semester ended with two nights of team presentations on learning outcomes, with students sharing successes, challenges and lessons learned. The final Zoom session featured a special guest visit from Lorenzo and his grateful mom.

Together, the class blew past the $5,000 goal, raising $9,675 to grant wishes for Lorenzo and potentially another child, which will be reconfigured to comply with the challenges of the pandemic.

“I was blown away by the sacrifice and the gusto that the students went at this with, and with the sense of satisfaction each one of them got from this,” said Roomes, who serves as faculty director of student success initiatives at FIU Business and has helped organize student philanthropic projects for many years. “This is what service learning is about. You have to feel the need to go out and do this.”

The pandemic served to heighten his appreciation of what his class had accomplished.

“It was a breathtaking story of giving back at a time when so many of our students were themselves going through so much pain and uncertainty,” he said.

“But” he added, “we did it.”

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