It’s better to give than to receive, or so it would seem within Abilene Christian University’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication.
In response to a donor’s half-a-million-dollar contribution, JMC students recently took a fistful of dollars and headed across Abilene to perform random acts of kindness – to “pay it forward,” as the saying goes. And where did they get the idea to give to others in response to a gift they received? The donor herself.
Each December, Elise (Smith ’83) Mitchell and employees of her Mitchell Communications firm in Fayetteville, Ark., take part in the company’s Ignite giving initiative. Employee teams “pay it forward” by venturing into their community, each armed with $500 cash that is then creatively distributed to neighbors in need. Afterward, everyone gathers together to share their giving experiences, what they learned, and how it affected those they helped.
So, too, JMC students left directly from a departmental Chapel program and, with $200 in hand for each of three teams, spent two hours looking for unusual ways to make a difference.
The KACU-FM student group covered a portion of rent for a woman they met in the emergency room at Hendrick Medical Center. The Optimist/JMC Network gave half its allotment to Meals on Wheels and used the other half for Walmart gift cards it distributed to unsuspecting patrons, including one woman shopping with her children for Valentines to send to her husband, who is deployed on a military assignment. The Morris & Mitchell team – ACU’s student-run advertising and public relations agency – bought children books for the Alliance for Women and Children.
“I wanted the students to help us honor and thank Elise, but to do it in a way that would be meaningful to her,” says Dr. Cheryl Mann Bacon (’76), professor and chair of the JMC department. “It should be something she would appreciate and that she would do.”
“Giving is a priceless experience, and I am so glad that the department is showing students why it is important to be a leader who gives,” Mitchell told a reporter for the ACU Optimist student newspaper. “It changes you for the good, and for good.”
Mitchell knows a lot about being benevolent, especially when giving back to her alma mater. Her 2011 gift to the university helped fund creation of the Morris & Mitchell agency at ACU. Her latest gift funds an endowment to help finance the agency’s operation while allowing it to expand into new areas.
“We’re gratified that, while engaging in a major transaction involving her company, Elise thought enough of us to unsparingly share some of what she’s earned with the university,” says ACU advancement director Don L. Garrett (’77). “Beyond simply being generous, she’s also funding projects she’s passionate about, and that makes her gift doubly special.”
Mitchell says she chose to make a donation to JMC because the department changed her life and prepared her for a career in public relations.
“Supporting their work to prepare the next generation of leaders in my field is a great honor and just one small way I can try to repay the department for all they did to help me succeed,” Mitchell said. “I am particularity passionate about Morris & Mitchell, and wanted to ensure it would grow and thrive for many years to come.”
Bacon received the call about the donation last November and informed the faculty the following week to decide how the funds would be used. “I wanted to involve the faculty in thinking through priorities because Mitchell wanted the donation to go towards unmet needs – things that we didn’t already have underway or didn’t already have fundraising in place for,” Bacon says.
The donation will be used for three purposes: financially supporting the already thriving agency, helping the department better focus on diversity issues in curriculum and in instruction, and creating a new multimedia student entity for the multimedia majors.