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Capstone Communication Studies course leads social innovation forum on hunger

Apr 16, 2014

Hannah Back leads a group discussion at "Got Food? A Social Innovation Forum on Hunger in Southeastern Ohio" at The Ridges on Friday, April 4, 2014. Each group of students and local leaders came up with ideas on the causes and potential solutions to the problem of hunger in the region. / Photos by Yi-Ke Peng

Capstone Communication Studies course leads social innovation forum on hunger

April 4 event cosponsored by Voinovich School

By Gentry Bennett

ATHENS, Ohio (April 16, 2014)—The School of Communication Studies and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs held a social innovation forum on April 4 concerning hunger in Southeastern Ohio. The forum, which took place at The Ridges, involved more than 40 students, faculty and community members interested in helping the hungry in the areas surrounding Ohio University.

Students in COMS 4800, a capstone class, have been planning the event since the beginning of the semester. After being approached with the idea as a final project, they invited local business and partners to attend, resulting in great input and innovative solutions. Representatives from Athens City Schools, Good Works, Live Healthy Appalachia and other local organizations were in attendance.

The forum began with a presentation from Dr. Laura Black and others that identified true innovation and how it applies to hunger in southeastern Ohio. Next, students from the capstone class gave a heartfelt wake-up call with reflections from community members. The students cited statistics that said 20.1% of Athens County is food insecure, an increase of over 10% from the U.S. average.

“Hunger is a difficult subject to accurately conceptualize,” said Chris Linscott, of GoodWorks.

The event encouraged attendees to have open and honest conversations about the area’s hunger problems. Facilitators led conversations directed by questions at various stations, which participants cycled through.
Jay Koren, a COMS 4800 student, was a facilitator for one of the tables. “I was in charge of asking the group questions, maintaining which direction the conversation is going in, and really getting the participants to share their experiences with the group,” Koren said of his experience at the forum.

The second part of the conference focused on what the community can do. Sherri Oliver from Live Healthy Appalachia said of her program Live Healthy Kids, “We are actually teaching seventh graders how to cook, and just because someone’s not in a certain age range doesn’t mean they’re not deserving of health.” Her organization focuses on improving health and nutrition in the Appalachian region.

At the end of the session, participants wrote on paper plates what they, personally, were going to do after this event.

Ideas included community gardens, a mentor program with the high schools and Ohio University students and the implementation of green houses in open areas.

Students should look to the Division of Student Affairs in Baker Center in order to get involved and help solve the hunger problem, Koren said. “They offer a variety of community service events that often touch base on hunger in the surrounding areas,” he said.

Students in the COMS class expressed gratitude for each of the participants. Koren said he is “looking forward to see how this forum helped in educating our community on hunger.”