Above: (Left to right) Safiyah Lopez ’12 discusses a recent project with Laura Dupuy, executive director of the LNDF.
Every month, Elizabeth Perry-Sizemore takes a seat around a large table at Lynchburg City’s Yoder Community Center. There, she comes together with community leaders, volunteers, city staff, and residents of an area called Tinbridge Hill to discuss issues affecting the neighborhood, which is located several miles from Randolph College.
Tinbridge Hill is just one of the neighborhoods helped by the Lynchburg Neighborhood Development Foundation (LNDF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing low- to moderate-income residents access to affordable homes—and a place where Randolph College students are receiving firsthand experience in real life economics.
For years, Perry-Sizemore and her students have conducted research and volunteered at the LNDF through internships and other volunteer opportunities. The effort allows students to apply the economic skills they have learned in the classroom while strengthening the College’s bonds with its neighbors.
“Our students come to campus, and they live here for four years. Yes, they live at Randolph College, but they also live in Lynchburg,” said Perry-Sizemore, an economics professor and assistant dean of the College. “I want them to understand that Lynchburg is more than the Target store on Wards Road.”
She also wants to give them a glimpse at economics in action. Perry-Sizemore’s students have collected data on the LNDF’s efforts, which focus on obtaining and renovating old and abandoned houses. The homes are then turned into low-density rental property or single-family homes. During the past 16 years, the organization has spent more than $43 million in neighborhood revitalization efforts and has provided more than 200 mortgages to first-time home buyers, with a less than 1 percent default rate.
Perry-Sizemore believes it is important to show students how an education in economics can be useful in endeavors that might not contain the word “economist” in their title. “I want them to see a wider range of opportunities in the discipline than they had imagined before,” she said. Introducing them to the role of the nonprofit sector, as she does in her public economics course, adds an important element to Randolph’s economics curriculum.
The quantitative and qualitative data collected by Perry-Sizemore’s students have been an important experiential learning tool in her class. The data have been used to measure the effects of renovated LNDF properties on surrounding property values.
Randolph students have also made significant contributions to the organization and its residents. Sarah Stout ’10, an economics major, was instrumental in researching and writing a grant proposal for the LNDF that won a $1 million state grant from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The funds are being used to renovate and stabilize two neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates.
“I was drawn to the internship because I realized LNDF was doing hugely important, interesting work in the city,” said Stout. “They are creating homes as well as informed homeowners, which improves neighborhoods and the lives of individuals and families.”
Another student, Shradha Shrestha ’12, who is a double major in business and economics from Nepal, is doing a research project on the economic impact of the LNDF’s renovation of condemned property. She is using an econometric model to compare the trend of home sales values before and after the LNDF’s intervention in the neighborhood. “The public econ class is probably the best class I have taken,” Shrestha said. The experience persuaded Shrestha to intern at another nonprofit last summer.
And Safiyah Lopez ’12 worked on a separate study that measured residents’ satisfaction in neighborhoods where run-down homes have been renovated. Lopez’s internship with the LNDF was inspiring.
“I was smitten with how they wanted to help people,” said Lopez, who is from Jamaica and is a double major in business and global studies. She hopes to someday work with a nonprofit in some capacity. “In Jamaica, you see a lot of poverty, especially families with children. I do believe children should not know starvation.”
In addition to providing Randolph’s students with unique opportunities outside of the classroom, the College’s partnership with LNDF has also provided faculty and students with the chance to become directly involved with neighborhood revitalization.
Laura Dupuy, LNDF’s executive director, said Randolph students possess a mixture of analytical skills and compassion for others that could be useful in a wide range of community organizations. “What I like is that these students have been motivated enough to go to college and hone skills that can be seen as very dry and unsexy, but they also understand how they can be applied to real-world situations,” she said. “If they end up coming to work in an organization like mine, we’re much better for it.”