UMW Philanthropy Class Announces Grant Recipients

View a video about the philanthropy awards.

Students enrolled in a philanthropy course at the University of Mary Washington have awarded a total of $10,000 to the Thurman Brisben Center and the Rappahannock United Way.

Class representative Dahlia Ali announced the awards at a check presentation on Tuesday, December 1 at the university’s Jepson Alumni Executive Center. The presentation culminates the semester-long Economics of Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector, taught by Robert Rycroft, professor of economics.

“Both programs, as a class, we felt gave a hand up rather than a hand out,” said Ali. “And as Professor Rycroft has said in class, it is better to teach a man how to fish rather than give a man a fish. The Thurman Brisben Center and the Rappahannock United Way have fully exuded this idea.”

The grants were funded by Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation, which provided the class with $10,000 to award how it saw fit. The class of 20 students reviewed about 40 applications.

“The Economics of Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector class exemplifies the University of Mary Washington’s commitment to the welfare of the greater Fredericksburg region and beyond,” said university President Judy G. Hample. “These students don’t just learn about philanthropy, they practice it, experiencing firsthand both the pleasure and the responsibilities that philanthropy entails.”

The Thurman Brisben Center has been awarded $7,350 to help fund a program furnishing start-up supplies to families from the center as well as providing mentors to assist these families to ensure success in maintaining their homes. The center is a full-service residential emergency homeless shelter serving the city of Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

“We are extremely thrilled about receiving the grant,” said Bunny Melzer, executive director for the Thurman Brisben Center. The funds will go towards helping families rebuild their basic food pantry and cleaning needs when they leave the shelter to move into their own home, Melzer said.

The Rappahannock United Way received $2,650 to fund the purchase of equipment to provide free tax preparation services to underprivileged people, as well as improve financial literacy. The United Way works with 34 community agencies in the Fredericksburg area to ensure that residents in need have access to sufficient food, housing, health care and emergency services.

“We are really excited about being one of the recipients,” said Sarah Walsh, director of community investment for the Rappahannock United Way. “We plan to buy laptops and wireless printers to support our volunteer tax service. The new equipment will help volunteers meet the needs of more people.”

The philanthropy course, in its fifth year at UMW, typifies similar courses that Buffett has created at 15 colleges across the country to allow undergraduates to experience the pleasure and the responsibilities that philanthropy entails. Annually, Buffet gives each class $10,000 to award to charitable organizations as the class deems fit. The student groups have sole responsibility for creating a foundation, reviewing the applicants and determining who should receive assistance.

Last year, students in the philanthropy course awarded $10,000 to the Rappahannock Big Brothers Big Sisters to start a Hispanic Youth Mentoring Project. Past recipients also include the National Housing Trust/Enterprise Preservation Corporation, the Fredericksburg Counseling Services, Inc., Homes for America: Heritage Park Academic Achievement Program, Rebuilding Together, Rappahannock Refuge Inc./Hope House and the Fredericksburg Regional Boys and Girls Club.

The Sunshine Lady Foundation is a private family foundation funded by Doris Buffett, sister of billionaire Warren Buffet. The foundation invests in organizations and programs dedicated to providing opportunities to advance education, well being and new life choices for disadvantaged people with special empathy for the working poor and families in crisis. More information about the foundation is available at

For more information about the philanthropy course at the University of Mary Washington, contact Dr. Rycroft at (540) 654-1500 or

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