Alumni In Class News

January 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Economics Students Give Good Works a $10,000 Boost

Group photo, From left, Benjamin Beaty, Alex Armstrong, Dominic Detwiler, Keith Wasserman, Michael McTernan, and Madison Stanley

From left, Benjamin Beaty, Alex Armstrong, Dominic Detwiler, Keith Wasserman, Michael McTernan, and Madison Stanley

by Kristin Distel

Students in Dr. Julia Paxton’s fall Economics of Altruism class presented a $10,000 check to Good Works, a local nonprofit founded and directed by Ohio University alum Keith Wasserman ’81.

The students — Alex Armstrong, Michael McTernan, Madison Stanley, Benjamin Beaty, and Dominic Detwiler — gave a powerful overview of their reasons for selecting Good Works as the recipient of the funds, which were provided by Warren Buffett’s Learning by Giving Foundation. Wasserman and three Good Works board members were present to meet and thank the students, who described the experience as “transformative.”

Good Works provides a wide array of services to the residents of southeastern Ohio, including a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, as well as transitional housing, vehicles and appliances, family-style meals, computer classes, in-home assistance for people with disabilities, and many other services.

More information about the wide variety of assistance that Good Works offers is available on their website. The organization, which helps residents of nine counties in the southeastern Ohio area, is celebrating thirty-seven years in operation.

‘Expand Our Circle of Care’

Paxton’s students undertook to learn about generosity and greed, and the underlying incentives behind each.

“People make decisions based on incentives around them,” Paxton states. “What is the catalyst to make people act generously or greedily? In this class, we use behavioral economics to try to understand the decision-making process.”

“We’ve thought about how to expand our circle of care, rather than tending only to our immediate circle.”

The students in Paxton’s Economics of Altruism class “are all extremely capable,” she says. In assessing each nonprofit, the students considered several criteria: effectiveness, sustainability, impact, and excellence in management.

They started with a list of 80 nonprofits from which to choose and eventually narrowed down the list to their three top choices. Before deciding on Good Works, the students wrote mission statements and then considered how well each organization matched up with their mission statement.

Gov. Strickland Lends a Hand

To make their final decision about which organization would receive Buffett’s funds, students received help from former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who attended several class sessions. In a process that Paxton compares to the popular television show “Shark Tank,” the students pitched their choices for local nonprofits to Strickland.

Several students advocated for Good Works because it matched up closely with their mission statement, Paxton explains. After considering Strickland’s input and assessing the contributions Good Works makes to the community, the class voted and decided that Good Works was the best choice.

‘Transformative’ Experience for Students

Five students provided a comprehensive overview of the services that Good Works provides. Armstrong, McTernan, Stanley, Beaty, and Detwiler explained that Good Works provides services within a larger framework of community. The students spent 20 hours volunteering with the organization.

Several of Paxton's students explained the importance of Good Works, shown here in front of big screen.

Several of Paxton’s students explained the importance of Good Works.

“Good Works bridges the gap between people within the community,” they explained, noting the many ways in which the organization assists southeast Ohio residents.

They also discussed The Timothy House, which is described on the Good Works website as “the only shelter for people without homes in eight southeast Ohio counties.” Wasserman founded The Timothy House, one of Good Works’ core programs, when he was a student at OHIO.

A 1981 OHIO graduate, Wasserman majored in general studies and earned a two-year associate’s degree in mental health, a specialization that he describes as “a tremendous program.” As part of the mental health coursework, Wasserman’s professors allowed him to open a two-bed homeless shelter in his basement. That shelter eventually became The Timothy House.

In part, Wasserman credits his success—and that of The Timothy House—to his OHIO professors. “They really believed in me,” he notes. Later, Wasserman chose to live homeless in 11 U.S. cities in order to understand the problems that people without homes face on a daily basis.

Another branch of the Good Works organization is Transformation Station, which donates vehicles, appliances, bicycles, food, and other items to southeastern Ohio residents. To date, Transformation Station has provided a remarkable 164 vehicles.

‘Start with Gratitude’

The key to the success and longevity of Good Works, Wasserman explains, is gratitude. “I believe it’s important to start with gratitude. Thanks be to God and to all of you in this class for this amazing donation. It’s rare, and I’m grateful,” Wasserman says. He explains that his Christian faith is fundamental to his interest in helping others, and to Good Works as a whole.

“We’re anchored in faith; that’s an important part of who we are. We surround each other with support, love, and gratitude,” he notes.

Keith Wasserman thanks Paxton's Economics of Altruism students, shown here with hands outstretched.

Keith Wasserman thanks Paxton’s Economics of Altruism students.

Wasserman explains his personal mission as “the development of people,” which he describes as “the future of sustainability.” Indeed, Good Works has invested a great deal of energy and resources into the lives of area residents, some of whom now work for the organization. Their longest-running employee started as a Good Works client 21 years ago.

Rising to Meet Local Needs

“The role of nonprofit organizations rises in this class,” Paxton states. She notes that power imbalances sometimes make it difficult to directly help someone in need. The question then becomes, she says, “How do we help? How do you make that happen in a way that makes everyone feel good?”

“In this class, we wanted to give to a nonprofit in a way that solves power imbalances,” Paxton remarks. “Communally, we need Good Works to help solve that problem for us.”

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