Wisconsin Idea Fellowships Helps Pave Way for Career in Nonprofit

2016-2017 WIF Recipient Mallory Swenson - Community Outreach for a Healthier Food PantryMallory Swenson - Food Pantry

Working in the nonprofit sector was never a place where Mallory Swenson could see herself after college.

For Swenson, she wanted to focus on nutritional science and learn more about the scientific research behind public health. However, during her freshman and sophomore year, she found herself taking classes and attending campus-wide events that would result in a shift in her passion and major – food insecurity and the Community and Nonprofit Leadership major in the School of Human Ecology (SoHE).

“I remember taking a sociology class my fall semester of my freshman year and fell in love with it and realized that there’s a whole other side of public health that’s not doing scientific research,” Swenson said.

In addition to her freshman year, Swenson was able to find a volunteering opportunity at the Public Service Fair. As a volunteer, she was a receptionist at the Lussier Community Education Center (LCEC) answering phone calls and assisting with other needs and duties.

Her role and experience as a receptionist began to burgeon as she transitioned to a much more engaging role within the organization.

Mallory Swenson - Food Pantry

During her sophomore year, Swenson began to help out with the after-school program making meals with kids on Friday afternoons. While her transition from receptionist to making meals with kids was great, Swenson sought for a bigger opportunity that would greatly benefit her and the needs of the LCEC.

The need? To initiate a new nutrition education pilot program in the food pantry.

To help grow and expand the needs of the LCEC, Swenson turned her attention to the 2016-2017 Wisconsin Idea Fellowships (WIF), an annual award to undergraduate student projects working towards solving a challenge identified with a local or global community partner.

Contingent upon approval of a students’ grant and application process, it would award up to $7000 in total funding to contribute to their project.

“I didn’t just want to add this to my resume.” Swenson said. The point [of applying for a WIF] was to address a need for a community partner that I really felt passionate for and that I really wanted to help out.”

With the help of faculty advisor Jennifer Gaddis, a professor in the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies in SoHE, she was able to assist Swenson with the grant proposal and help make her WIF proposal come to fruition.

“She was amazing at helping me write my proposal,” Swenson said. “I really had no idea what it was supposed to look like. I’d never written a grant before.”

Swenson’s project would focus on food insecurity in Madison using community outreach for a healthier food pantry.

Food Recipe

During the next academic year, Swenson would use her WIF project to provide sample meals to clients once a month and hand out healthy recipe cards.

Other components of her project include completely rearranging Lussier’s pantry to promote healthier choices, designing outreach materials for those who want to make donations, and making food drive packets for organizations that were interested in hosting food drives.

“We wanted to use behavioral economics to drive people to make healthier decisions when they’re shopping at a pantry.” Swenson said. “Just because someone is experiencing poverty, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve healthy food.”

In Swenson’s junior and final year in college, the LCEC and WIF reaffirmed her passion for working in the nonprofit sector, ultimately landing her a full-time position at the Community Action Coalition For South Central Wisconsin (CAC).

Swenson now works as a Community Engagement/Fund Development Specialist at CAC where she works on fundraising efforts and community outreach and engagement.

“It was perfect when this job opened up right as I was graduating because I’m able to do all the things I really liked doing during my WIF, such as all the community engagement and outreach,” Swenson said. “The WIF was really the experience that made me realize ‘wow,’ nonprofit work is definitely what I want to do.”