Rio sophomore, Jacob Click and Student Engagement Coordinator Seth Lawrence attended the 2016 Propel Ohio Leadership Summit. Submitted photo.

RIO GRANDE, Ohio – Students at the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College are working to create a difference in Ohio. To learn new ways to achieve this goal and share their own ideas with other college students across the state, Rio sophomore Jacob Click and Student Engagement Coordinator Seth Lawrence attended the Second Annual Propel Ohio Collegiate Leadership Summit this fall.

Propel Ohio is an initiative that began in 2015 by Senator Sherrod Brown to promote civic engagement and leadership in undergraduate students throughout Ohio. The program is designed to have a new theme each year that focuses on a need in Ohio communities. Lawrence said this year, the program’s focus is reducing and preventing childhood poverty throughout the state.

“There were several leaders from state and local governments, as well as non-profit organizations to speak on the issue,” Lawrence said. “The summit provided a wealth of information on ways we as a community can fight childhood poverty. It was such a great experience because childhood poverty is not always something people talk about, but it has such an impact on several areas in Ohio.”

Lawrence said one way Rio’s students are getting involved in the community is the creation of the Rio Helping Hands Food Pantry. The food pantry began in 2014 as a way to provide nonperishable food items to students in need.

“A requirement of the event was each school had to talk about a way they are already working to combat childhood poverty, so we presented our Rio Helping Hands Food Pantry,” Lawrence said. “Through this pantry, we have already served over 1500 students and their families. Our students can come in for free any time and get what they need.”

Lawrence said Rio works to keep the pantry stocked and available to students to provide them with access to food when needed.

“As a campus, we have to make sure accessibility to food does not act as a barrier to students’ educational opportunities. On campuses across the country, there are students who choose an extra shift at work over class because they need money for groceries,” Lawrence said. “This is an opportunity and responsibility we have to help relieve that stress of how they are going to get food for the week. We have seen such an impact in the two years the program has been in place and hope to watch it continue to grow and serve our students.”

Lawrence said campuses across Ohio are already finding ways to address childhood poverty and attending the summit helped bring all the schools’ ideas together.

“It was interesting to learn what other schools were doing through their different departments to help fight hunger in their campus communities. We also had students and advisors come to us asking questions about starting a food pantry,” Lawrence said. “It’s inspiring to see so many campuses already working to fight childhood poverty and hunger. Our communities have a need and we have a responsibility as a local institution to help provide a solution.”

The Rio Helping Hands Food Pantry is co-operated by Rio’s Director of Accessibility and Mental Health Services Kelly Bonice and Student Services Secretary Amy Weaver. For more information on ways to contribute to the Rio Helping Hands Food Pantry contact Amy Weaver at 740-245-7350.