Two students are on the ground facing one another to work on a planting project outside
Sacramento Valley College Corps fellows Christy Vong (left) and Bella Di Francesco (right), both UC Davis students, participate in a planting project with Solar Community Housing Association in Davis. Photo courtesy Kaitlin Oki.

Grants to Local Nonprofits Strengthen Community Impact

Thanks to a novel approach to community partnerships, the Sacramento Valley College Corps (SVCC) has improved internship experiences for UC Davis students while making a lasting impact on the Sacramento nonprofit community.

A state-funded collaboration between UC Davis, Sacramento State, Sacramento City College, and Woodland Community College, the SVCC provides undergraduate students with hands-on learning opportunities at community organizations that tackle K-12 education, climate change or food insecurity. Students receive a $10,000 stipend and complete 450 hours of community service during the school year.

In spring 2023, SVCC awarded more than $66,000 in grants to 12 community partners, a significant investment in local organizations that often struggle with limited resources. These grants will be used to address critical needs such as volunteer engagement and training, thereby empowering small nonprofits to take on new challenges and expand their programming. The ultimate goal is to create a more enriching experience for SVCC interns and to compensate community partners for their time, expertise and investment in students, said Moira Delgado, community partner liaison for the UC Davis Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement.

Empowering nonprofits and students

The impact of the SVCC grants on community host sites and student interns has been notable. For example, Alchemist Community Development Corporation in Sacramento, a nonprofit focused on connecting people to food, land, and opportunities, has purchased new gardening and safety supplies in order to offer additional opportunities to student fellows. The grant has also funded valuable training and leadership development for staff members, developing their skills in fostering growth and mentoring for students and volunteers, said Joe Robustelli, neighborhood empowerment manager for Alchemist CDC.

“We are a very small nonprofit without a lot of resources,” Robustelli said. “This grant allowed us to make more opportunities available to students. It may not seem like a lot, but to us it’s a lot of money.”

Robustelli emphasized the significance of the university directly providing financial support to community organizations through the SVCC program. “Sometimes, for small amounts like this, it’s not worth the paperwork involved. But this was a really easy process. And the support really helps when we’re trying to justify to our board why we want to continue with SVCC.”

Three students stand and smile behind vegetables that they proudly display
From left to right, Sacramento Valley College Corps fellows Alley Scheffki (Sacramento City College), Jaylee Cruz (Woodland Community College) and Jake Zaleski (UC Davis) worked with Alchemist Community Development Corporation in Sacramento. Photo courtesy Joe Robustelli.

Another nonprofit, Solar Community Housing Association in Davis, will use their grant to train staff in volunteer management and to develop skill-based resources for student fellows. “Working with volunteers is rare for us, so it has been a fun and challenging experience figuring out how to create a meaningful and impactful year-long experience for students,” said Kaitlin Oki (B.S., sustainable food systems, ’17), land stewardship coordinator for the nonprofit.

Solar Community Housing Association provides cooperative housing for low-income people in Davis. The SVCC fellows have helped the nonprofit deepen relationships with their residents, and provide more support for the self-governing housing, Oki said. “It’s become harder and harder for our residents to provide labor and contributions because the economic pressures they face are getting more intense every year. The consistency of having the College Corps fellows go out and meet residents and attend workshops helped us reach critical mass to get people really energized to come out again and again.”

    Student wearing a hat is standing close to the ground in a squatting position in order to pick up hay
    Sacramento Valley College Corps fellow Bryan Davalos Guzman, a second-year student at UC Davis, participating in planting with Solar Community Housing Association in Davis. Photo courtesy Kaitlin Oki.

    Building strong partnerships

    By compensating community partners, SVCC reinforces the principle of equitable collaboration, ensuring that the benefits of the program extend beyond the students themselves and positively impact the organizations that dedicate their time and energy to nurturing the next generation of community leaders

    “This model sets a promising precedent for universities and communities nationwide, fostering effective partnerships for the greater good,” Stacey Muse, director of engagement for the Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement.

    The community grants initiative also reflects the broader commitment by UC Davis to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships that empower community partners and recognize the value they bring to student learning beyond the classroom.

    To further strengthen this commitment, Muse is leading the UC Davis Community Engagement Collaborative in a year-long effort to enhance how the university compensates community partners. The collaborative is a community of practice open to any faculty and staff who wish to support, improve and grow community-engaged work. The group aims to establish fair and sustainable practices that nurture long-term partnerships between the university and the community.

    “It is crucial to acknowledge and compensate community partners for their time, expertise and investment in students,” Muse said.


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