The charge: determine the cost of providing services to homeless individuals.
The effort was part of an embedded service–learning project, which incorporates community service directly into the curriculum — in this case, an Accountancy course.
Going Behind the Scenes
For their project, the students headed to two shelters to observe important operational processes, including food preparation and serving, client intake, and triage to determine new client needs.
“Performance measures are needed and useful for all types of organizations, particularly nonprofits that have to prove their funds are going to good use,” says Professor Skip Hachey.
Student Vy Tran emerged with eyes wide open.
“After finding out how expensive it is to operate a homeless shelter, I was impressed at how well they keep it running on such a tight budget,” Tran says. “I was also surprised to learn about the different situations of the clients. Some had either full-time or part-time jobs, while some only stayed temporarily because they got laid off and had a hard time making rent payments.”
At the semester’s end, students shared their findings directly with executives from the shelter, as well as the Massachusetts Shelter and Housing Alliance, a community organization dedicated to ending homelessness.
Tackling such issues, Yazwinski aims to use findings to support a business model to help end homelessness, in part by replacing emergency services with permanent short-term housing and workforce development.
Each year, students participate in projects like this through our nationally recognized Bentley Service–Learning Center (BSLC). In addition to embedded course projects, other programs include the fourth-credit option, which awards an extra academic credit for service, and international service–learning projects at our partner institutions in Australia, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
“One of the strongest needs in the nonprofit world is for more advanced business skills to play a role in operations and in the bigger picture,” says Edward Zlotkowski, director of the BSLC. “Many students are proving they are willing to do that, and our job is to make sure they show up well-prepared.”