The 32 students in Gary Bernstein’s “Event Management” class spent part of the fall semester planning, promoting and operating a golf outing that raised $16,000 for Metro United Way.

Then, as part of a pilot program for the Office of Community Engagement, the tables were turned. The students, who had only recently been soliciting donations for a cause, were given $1,000 by local businessman George Merrifield and asked to make a gift to one charity.

They asked three community organizations to submit grant requests and make presentations to the class. After discussing the needs of the possible recipients, the students voted to give the money to Neighborhood House, a nonprofit organization that serves people of all ages in the Portland community. They and Merrifield presented the check to Neighborhood House Executive Director Pam Rice at a reception Dec. 6.

Giving the money was easy, Merrifield told the students, noting that they had the more difficult task in choosing a recipient.

“We chose to select Neighborhood House because we believed that the $1,000 would go farthest with that organization,” said Petey Cautilli, a sport administration major who helped Bernstein identify the three possible recipients.

The money, Cautilli said, will help pay for basic supplies — application fees, bedding and such — for four college hopefuls.

“By writing down two words on a piece a paper and choosing Neighborhood House, our class was able to change the lives of four people just like us,” he said. “We may not be from the same part of town and we may never meet each other but people are people and they need our help. Being able to provide these kids with that help, feels amazing.”

The Office of Community Engagement plans to review the pilot program results and hopes to have other faculty incorporate a philanthropy project in their courses in fall 2013, said Henry Cunningham, director of community engagement.

Among other things, the program is intended to:

  • increase student awareness of social problems and the work of nonprofit organizations to address them,
  • influence student attitudes and behaviors related to social responsibility, civic engagement and charitable giving, and
  • teach students about grant-seeking and grant-making processes.

The ultimate goal, Cunningham said, is for UofL to have a model student philanthropy program.

Those goals are in line with UofL’s mission of community engagement. Students already complete thousands of hours of service through programs like the Signature Partnership, which focuses on creating, enhancing and launching programs designed to eliminate or reduce disparities that West Louisville residents experience in education, health, economic development and social services.

Groups throughout Louisville have benefited from UofL’s efforts.

“You’ve made a difference in kids’ lives and in the lives of staff” Rice said in accepting the check.

“The University of Louisville’s partnership grows stronger and stronger and stronger. I appreciate what you do to make a difference,” she said.