Capstone project helps Habitat aid more families

An increasing number of people don’t need a home from Habitat for Humanity of Northeast Indiana, Executive Director Marianne Stanley said. They need a roof or a furnace for the home they own.

“Our community is aging,” she said. “For people who are handicapped or elderly, it’s hard to come up with $8,000 for a roof, or even $3,000.”

Though Habitat International offers a home improvement program, Stanley said that program didn’t fit what Habitat Northeast Indiana was trying to do. So the organization set out to develop its own, and enlisted the help of five Trine University seniors.

“We needed someone outside of the box to help with marketing,” she said. “We didn’t even have a name for the program.”

Habitat found that out-of-the-box thinking by applying to Trine’s Ketner School of Business (KSB) to be considered as a capstone project for business students. 

Linda Conley, assistant professor in KSB, said the school solicits capstone projects each semester from nonprofit organizations as well as businesses, most from northeast Indiana. After they are reviewed to make sure they meet program and learning outcomes, the projects are presented to students, who have the opportunity to choose which one they want to tackle.

“Every capstone project takes on a life of its own,” Conley said. “It really depends on what that client needs.”

In February, a team made up of seniors Jessica Pollitt from Union City, Indiana, Nate McCord of Montpelier, Ohio, Leah Tonneas of Hicksville, Ohio, Kimberly Hobbs of Angola, Indiana, and Andrew Strock of Hamilton, Indiana, took on the Habitat project for their capstone. The students said they were drawn to the project by the opportunity to assist a nonprofit organization that helps the community.

“I’m from a very low-income area in the state of Indiana, and as I’ve grown up, I’ve known about Habitat,” said Pollitt. “Having the opportunity to work with Habitat and to make a difference up here meant a lot.”

The Trine students met with Stanley and others from Habitat to set priorities. In addition to creating the program, Habitat pinpointed key messages it wanted to communicate, including that the new program would allow Habitat to help more people with the same amount of money, and that the organization is intended to be a hand up but not a handout.

“We sat down and spent a couple of hours talking about us and what we were looking for from them,” said Stanley.

“After that, it was really just take off and go,” said Pollitt.

Pollitt said Kelly Trusty, Ph.D., associate professor in KSB who served as technical advisor, provided the group with information on marketing for nonprofits as opposed to businesses.

“There were a lot of different resources she brought to the table before we ever started working on the plan,” Pollitt said.

Gregg Shull, adjunct professor in KSB, also served as an advisor on the project and said the students conducted a lot of research into areas such as what other Habitat organizations are doing, what other nonprofit organizations are using for messaging techniques, and systems methodologies.

McCord said the group met every week to work on a different step of the plan.

“It was very systematic,” he said. “We were pretty organized as a group.”

The group eventually came up with the name Restore Our Community for the new program.

“They came up with great ideas and did a bunch of research I’d never thought of,” Stanley said. “They were a great group of students. They did it all.”

At the end of the spring semester, all the students who completed capstone projects presented them in front of all the companies or organizations that had been accepted for capstones, along with faculty and other invited guests. Stanley said she was impressed with all the groups who presented.

“Whether working for a non-profit or a for-profit, these kids put their heart and soul into those projects,” she said.

The Restore Our Community program launched this fall. Stanley said it has been well-received, getting coverage in the three daily newspapers that serve northeast Indiana.

“We got tons of responses and we have about four or five people who qualify,” she said.

Pollitt said being able to make a difference by helping Habitat and seeing the project launched is very rewarding.

“Through this project I can help make a difference in so many lives that I may not ever know about,” she said. “Helping build Habitat up to help people in the area is really awesome.”