From what I understand, this course was commendable in the way it encouraged students to view philanthropy through an anti-racist, justice-focused lens. Students learned best practices for supporting both direct services and systemic change, for supporting general operating rather than niche ‘feel-good’ projects, and for developing a collaborative relationship with funded organizations. These practices could be transformative in the civic sphere if implemented on a broader level by both institutional funders and individuals. -Jessica Mayo, MICA Project

Jessica Mayo, LW ’12, is the co-founder and co-director of the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA Project), a community justice organization committed to working with low-income immigrants to overcome barriers to justice. In her remarks above, she makes a powerful case for systems-level learning and approaches to giving, and for giving grounded in partnership. According to Elizabeth George, a senior lecturer at Washington University, Philanthropy Lab mobilizes students to learn and do just that. “The goal,” she shared, “is for students to leave the class thinking about the choices that one makes when giving—supporting organizations that address root causes of an issue or supporting organizations that serve those impacted by that issue; the importance of endowment and long-term approaches to giving versus making a difference today.”

Philanthropy Lab is a new community engaged sociology course offered in partnership with the Gephardt Institute. Elizabeth instructed the course in fall 2019, using personal experience from her role as director of Community Investment at the St. Louis Community Foundation. Together, she and 21 undergraduate students explored the sociological and historical roots of philanthropy, its role in addressing social issues, and best practices through data- and equity-informed lenses. After determining shared grant-making interests, students formed groups with a focus on the following issues: racial equity, health, environmental law, immigration and advocacy, and children and education.

During each class session, students combined theoretical and practical learning to reflect on and prepare for their next step in the grant-making process. Each group identified local nonprofits working in their selected issue area and personally reached out with a request to complete an application for funding. Students designed their own application based on the Missouri Common Grant Application 2.0 and developed rubrics for the selection process. Through a grant from The Philanthropy Lab, the class had a combined $55,000 to allocate to organizations in the St. Louis region.

On December 9, students hosted a special ceremony to recognize the organizations selected to receive funding: ArchCity Defenders, Casa de Salud, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, the MICA Project, and Unleashing Potential. Elizabeth opened the evening by thanking the students for their work. Each group provided an overview of its decision and presented a check to its partner organization. The evening culminated with a reception, where, in addition to engaging with students, several grantees met for the first time and discussed opportunities for future collaboration.

While diverse in size and in the programs and services they offer, all five organizations are actively fighting injustice and working to meet the long-term needs and priorities of the communities they serve. Learn more about the organizations, the impact of funding received, and opportunities for involvement in our partner spotlight series below.

ArchCity Defenders

ArchCity Defenders (ACD) is a holistic legal advocacy organization that combats the criminalization of poverty and state violence, especially in communities of color. ACD’s foundation of civil and criminal legal representation, social services, impact litigation, policy and media advocacy, and community collaboration achieves and inspires justice and equitable outcomes for people throughout the St. Louis region and beyond.

Boo McLoughlin, Director of Development, and Mykael Ornbaun, Social Work Coordinator, MSW ’14, shared their thoughts:

Casa de Salud

The mission of Casa de Salud is to facilitate and deliver high quality clinical and mental health services for uninsured and underinsured patients, focusing on new immigrants and refugees who encounter barriers to accessing other sources of care. Casa de Salud partners with volunteer professionals to provide basic primary care services to patients, connect patients with specialty services, and educate patients to become independent and proactive healthcare consumers.

Kate Koch, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, MSW ’08, shared her thoughts:

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is Missouri’s first and only public interest law firm focused on the environment and public health. They provide free and reduced-fee legal services to individuals, organizations, and citizen groups who are seeking to protect the environment. Through the courts and administrative agencies, Great Rivers works to safeguard the environment and promote public health by enforcing environmental laws, especially air and water pollution laws, and laws intended to protect wetlands, floodplains, open space, and endangered species. Although Great Rivers has a dedicated Environmental Justice Program, it integrates environmental justice throughout its work.

Bruce A. Morrison, President and Attorney, LW ’88, shared his thoughts:

The MICA Project

The Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA Project) is a community justice organization committed to working with low-income immigrants to overcome barriers to justice. The MICA Project utilizes a combination of community outreach and legal services to promote the voice and dignity of immigrant communities. This combined approach addresses the surplus need for immigration legal services in immigrant communities by taking a proactive approach, providing immigrants with the information and resources they need before legal issues arise.

Jessica Mayo, Co-Founder, Co-Director, and Attorney, LW ’12, shared her thoughts:

Unleashing Potential

The mission of Unleashing Potential is to close the opportunity gap for children and youth by building on their strengths. Unleashing Potential’s programs include early childhood education and after school and summer enrichment programs. Annually, these educational and empowering experiences serve more than 1,400 high-need youth residing in St. Louis’s urban core and inner-ring suburbs.

Denise Carter, Director of Early Childhood Education, shared her thoughts:


February 20, 2020

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