Gardens and Grants

Guest Blogger Heather Olin ’13

heatherOresumesEvery year, I’ve gone into each semester hoping that I would find a class that would make me feel like I was doing work that would make a difference, rather than simply doing assignments for a grade. Although I have worked as a student partner on a number of client-based projects, I’ve never felt much attachment or emotional response toward any of them.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy or learn from the work I did, I just wasn’t personally invested in the outcome. This semester, I was lucky enough to work on a project that I was truly passionate about as it will benefit a lot of people, and that also helped me realize what I want to do with my life.

In 2012, one of my best friends, Sarah Gerald, graduated from Elon and moved to South Carolina. Her goal was to start a non-profit that would create community gardens in towns that have little or no access to healthy, low-cost food in the state. Sarah began the first community garden in Marion, a small town outside of Florence. The community is financially divided, with some very rich areas as well as very poor areas.  It was the perfect place for the first garden.  When I heard about what she was doing, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.

To complete my Professional Writing Studies minor, I signed up for an independent study that I chose to focus on writing grants and other material for CCG.  Going into this I had absolutely no experience writing grants, so I knew the semester would be an uphill battle.  I was very lucky that my independent study professor, Dr. Rebecca Pope-Ruark, has a strong background in grant writing and was able to give me tremendous help and insight during the entire process.

For the first part of the class, I researched grant writing so I would have a more thorough understanding of what it was that I was going to be doing.  I wrote a research paper explaining what I found out, and how I would apply what I learned to the grants I would be writing.  One of the major challenges I faced was getting back into writing.  As a double major in the School of Communications, writing papers is not something that I do often.  Writing is definitely something that takes practice, and I can tell you for sure that when I wrote my research paper, I was way out of practice.  I made errors that, when I look back, were laughable.  I mixed tenses, had poor (read:  basically no) structure, and lacked strong evidence to support my claims. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to revise my writing. Even though it was frustrating, it was all part of the learning process.  Writing first, second, and even fifth and sixth drafts of a something that I’m working on is now no longer intimidating or disheartening; it’s just part of the process.

Something else that I became more adept at throughout the semester was using what I had learned from previous PWS classes in my writing.  I found that utilizing rhetorical strategy was not as easy as I thought it would be. I’ve realized that I need to be very deliberate when choosing my rhetorical strategies in order to best express myself.  Writing outlines has been tremendously helpful in this regard.  I used to just wing it when I wrote papers, but I am definitely more successful going in with a plan.  It seems silly, but I’ve found that before I write I need to ask myself three questions: Who is my audience? What am I trying to tell them? And how can I appeal to ethos, logos, and pathos?  Along with an outline, this strategy helps set me up by acting as road map for the direction of my paper. All I need to do is fill in the details.

marion garden picI focused on two grants over the semester, both of which were offered by the Marion County Healthcare Association. As local offerings, they aren’t as in-depth as some federal grants might be, but they both still required a lot of time, effort, research, and attention to detail.  The first grant I worked on was a mini-grant worth $5,000.  I feel like it was a great place to start, as it was a way for me to practice what I had learned from my research without being overly complicated. The second grant was much more in-depth as it allowed CCG to request a lot more money.

As a first time grant writer, it was challenging for me to find my voice in the beginning.  It was tempting at times to abandon the formal tone and write, “We’re trying to do good in the world! Just fund us!” But I kept my cool and found ways to make that point in more eloquent ways, using research and evidence to do the talking for me. After a couple drafts of the mini grant, things began to fall into place.  I found that my writing became more concise and that I began to excel at using statistics and anecdotal evidence to support my reasoning, which is something that I have struggled with in the past.

Both grants had limits as to how much I could write, making the process more challenging.  I’m not going to lie, when I first read that the second grant had a three-page maximum, I was relieved.  In my research I had come across narratives that were upward of 10 pages long and wasn’t sure I could handle something like that.  This changed quickly as I realized that my drafts were six pages long, single-spaced. During my revisions I had to focus on keeping my writing concise and making every word count. It was a challenge at first, but being economical with the words I used made my writing stronger.

For my final, I’m also working on a social media plan for CCG.  This is interesting for me as it combines what I’ve studied in both of my majors and my minor while providing a practical tool for the organization’s use.  That is also one of the aspects that I’ve loved most about this project – I’ve been able to use skills that I’ve learned in my four years at Elon in new and interesting ways to create superior content.  Rather than writing from a singular academic background, I have studied three different approaches, all of which have their own benefits.  Being able to produce content by combining all that I’ve learned into a project that I’m so passionate about makes me feel like I’ve done what I’ve set out to do, and gotten the most out of my education.

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