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Mary Encabo-Bischoff and Erin McCarthy in a classroom seetting.

PFW Story

English class exploring use of new lessons to help local nonprofit

When students walked into Mary Encabo-Bischoff’s English 131 class to begin the semester, they had no idea they wouldn’t be simply taking notes during the lectures. Instead, they got a chance to produce work that might positively affect people throughout the world.

Traditionally a general education class serving as an introduction to academic writing, Encabo-Bischoff is trying something new this semester by asking the students to collaborate with the local nonprofit organization Creative Women of the World.

Founded in 2010, CWOW helps international women in developing countries by selling their self-created apparel, accessories, home décor, jewelry, and other items in its boutique, with over 50 countries represented. The artisans or organizations are paid upfront, and the boutique’s profits fund more business training for women in other countries. Many organizations working with CWOW also provide services for health care, skill training, and even more training that can transform the women’s communities.

According to its vision statement, the organization sees “a world where women are empowered to transform their lives and communities to overcome poverty, human trafficking, and disaster.” The company supports these efforts by providing entrepreneurial resources to build sustainable businesses through the power of the individual’s creativity.

During the spring semester, 20 PFW students have been assigned into groups to work on website updates, event planning, social media, storytelling, and international funding research.

“I wanted to create a course that is challenging but also unique,” said Encabo-Bischoff, a former CWOW board member. “Everybody is getting into the root of their projects so far. Based on my past observations from teaching this class, there is more engagement this semester.”

The class recently visited CWOW to meet with Executive Director Erin McCarthy.

“It was fun for me because we were talking with each other and understanding more about what we are doing,” said Emily Ruballos of the class’s international fundraising group.

The students came out of the meeting with McCarthy energized with new ideas and perspectives on what they might be able to accomplish and encouraged that they could make a difference.

“When we went into it, we were still trying to find what we were supposed to be doing,” said Colton Fleeman of the international fundraising group. “Meeting with the head of CWOW was very helpful because none of us have ever worked with a nonprofit before, so we didn’t know necessarily what to be looking for. She kind of focused our attention to look for smaller opportunities.”

Part of their study is starting to understand the staggering number of nonprofit organizations worldwide fighting for attention and finances. Finding a niche for CWOW to gain local awareness and support provided a more focused target.

As an example, the event planning group started exploring a possible March for Women, but uncertain weather and organizing such a huge undertaking were challenging. That idea has since been adjusted to a Lucky Women of Fort Wayne theme allowing creativity stations such as painting and crafts, along with showing off items CWOW sells.

“They talk about everything being handmade, and that puts everything into perspective,” said Ashton Williams of the event planning group. “It’s kind of cool.”

Several students plan to visit CWOW after the project and class finish. McCarthy recently visited campus to see the students’ progress.

“The students are great!” McCarthy said. “I have really appreciated their openness to this pilot project and genuine interest in getting to learn more about CWOW and provide us with their perspective on how to more consciously operate in a cross-cultural space. I also love that this class includes students from different backgrounds and majors, as it allows them to bring a multitude of different perspectives and insight to the table.”

The social media group is trying to determine the best audience for CWOW and how to attract its attention. They continually try to refine their best ideas.

“It’s about showing the women who are being helped by CWOW,” said Cecilie Potts. “We’re trying to spark an emotion and a feeling that might be the best way to catch people’s attention.”

Another benefit of the class change is students learn about each other and make new friends by working together. The longer the class lasts and the more progress they make, the more enthused they are about the project.

“I always wanted to help the community, but I never knew how,” Ruballos said. “I never expected it to happen in an English class.”

McCarthy said she hopes to continue developing conversations with this group of students and potentially others at PFW.