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College students launch campaign to raise funds for Towson nonprofit

College students launch campaign to raise funds for Towson nonprofit
Nia Nyamweya, left, and Rosemary Meister, of Rodgers Forge, students at Towson University, have started an online fundraising campaign for Asylee Women's Enterprise, a program helping women seeking asylum that is based in Towson. (Staff photo by Mary K. Tilghman)

A campaign to raise $10,000 for a Towson-based nonprofit has taught two Towson University students another lesson. As Rosemary Meister and classmate Nia Nyamweya launched a campaign for the Towson-based Asylee Women Enterprises, they learned about their own power to help those in need.

"This class has made me more aware of the needs locally, right outside my front door," said Meister, a mother of two who lives in Rodgers Forge. "I recognize it is so easy to give back. That's been eye-opening to me."

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She and Nyamweya, who received her bachelor's degree May 20, decided they wanted to help the Asylee Women's Enterprises to fulfill an assignment in their grant-writing class. They launched their online campaign — to raise $10,000 for the needs of women seeking asylum — May 13.

The Asylee Women's Enterprise, a Towson-based program that helps women seeking asylum in the United States, assists with housing, transportation and other everyday needs, and with the legal process toward asylum status.

Given an assignment to complete a hands-on, real-world fundraising project, Nyamweya knew she wanted to help AWE. She had been an intern there last summer, helping clients write their resumes and fill out job applications. When her internship was over, she returned as a volunteer.

"It just felt right. I just kept coming back," she said.

Their professors, Sara Gunning and Zosha Stuckey, gave them a list of possible nonprofits, but Nyamweya didn't need the list.

"I am extremely proud of the students — people think students these days (especially undergraduates) are 'bad' writers, but when you give them real life context that actually help people on the ground, then they write like they never had before," said Stuckey, an assistant professor in the English department.

The class, which she has taught since 2011, has raised over $75,000 for community groups. This year, students also raised funds for the Towson Arts Collective and Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park. Two other projects involved social media campaigns, including one for a well to be built in Tanzania, according to Stuckey.

Nyamweya introduced her classmate to AWE, and Meister agreed to take on the project.

"AWE needs a lot of general operation funds," said Nyamweya. "And we just love the organization."

They set up their campaign on the website GiveForward.com. Their campaign's hashtag, #AWE365, stands for the program, AWE's initiatives of community, housing and co-op; six ways asylee women inspire and the suggested donation of $5. A video on their fundraising web page features women who are part the program.

"We are trying to reach out to a lot of college students and we thought that would be a way to engage them," Meister said.

The 365 also signifies how long a woman seeking asylum has to wait before she can make a formal application, Meister said.

In their first week, they raised more than $600.

"Even if people aren't donating, we're spreading awareness," said Nyamweya.

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It took a lot of work before they launched the campaign, including research. They have sent out emails to classmates and promoted the project on Facebook and Twitter, which Meister said she learned to use for this project. "I did make a couple of T-shirts," she added. The black shirts are emblazoned with "#AWE365."

"So I just wear this around Towson," she said.

Now that Nyamweya, of Silver Spring, has her bachelor's degree in women's and gender studies, she is moving to St. Louis. She will spend a year as a Loretto volunteer, a program of the Loretto Sisters, working for an interfaith nonprofit that finds housing for people with HIV-AIDS.

Meister, who grew up in Catonsville, just finished her first semester toward her master's degree in professional writing. Meister said her 18-year-old daughter has expressed interest in getting involved in the organization. Meister, who also has a 9-year-old foster child, works full time as a medical writer and will continue with her master's program in the fall. "I'm chipping away at it a little at a time," she said.

Nyamweya, who is half Kenyan, found herself inspired by the stories of the women the organization helps. She took part in a Gratitude Circle and was touched to hear how thankful they were for simple things she takes for granted: things such as housing and life.

After returning home from Kenya following the funeral of one of her grandmothers, she found herself sobbing as she sat with the group. They welcomed and comforted her. "They are my family," Nyamweya said.

As the two women move on, they have turned over the fundraising effort to AWE's executive director Molly Corbett.

"We love the idea behind #awe365 and were very honored when the students approached us about the fundraiser," Corbett said. She noted that it was empowering to have women in AWE help with the video. "We hope that the campaign helps us to reach a new audience and educate the community about asylum seekers," she added.

"We are making a difference in their lives," Nyamweya said. "And that's a really good feeling."

For more on the fundraising campaign for AWE, go to giveforward.com and type #AWE365 into the search engine.

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