Education · Fresno

Impact of Fresno State Humanics program extends beyond grantmaking

Three community-benefit organizations from the Central Valley have received grants from students in the Humanics Program at Fresno State.

The grants of $5,000 each were awarded at a reception on May 13 at Arte Americas in Downtown Fresno. They are called Students4Giving Philanthropy Project grants.

The recipients are:

1.) Every Neighborhood Partnership. According to the reception program, the grant “will help ENP to build leadership indigenous capacity in Fresno’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods by fostering healthy community engagement and best practices to seek positive impact.”

2.) Jakara Movement. This organization focuses on building youth leadership among Punjabi Sikhs. The grant “will be utilized to help the organization develop its capacity through technology to better serve its volunteers.”

3.) Central California Adaptive Sports Center. The grant “will provide summer adaptive mountain sports opportunities to persons with disabilities who might not otherwise be able to afford to participate.”

Fresno State’s Humanics Program is offered in Sociology Department. Students can earn a minor in philanthropic and community-based leadership and/or a certificate in administration and leadership for community-benefit organizations.

 I dropped by Arte Americas on Monday shortly before the reception began. I wanted to chat briefly with two key players in the Humanics Program – Dr. Matthew Jendian and Dr. Don Simmons.

Jendian is chairman of the Sociology Department and founding director of the Humanics Program. Simmons is the Humanics Program’s lead faculty member.

My interest was the intersection of Humanics and City Hall. I’m talking about Fresno City Hall, to be sure.

After all, any Fresno City Hall reporter of experience knows that Jendian and Simmons are dedicated and – it must be said – shrewd advocates for their vision of the civic square. That’s good. That’s how American democracy works. But on this pleasant Monday morning, I wanted to get some thoughts from these two leaders on the value of the Humanics Program to the progress of robust civic engagement at city halls throughout the Valley.

Jendian said Fresno State’s Humanics Program is about 20 years old and has about 260 alumni.

“About 70% of them are working for community-benefit (organizations) or the public sector,” Jendian told me. “And 70% of them are working in the Central Valley. So, the brain talent is staying in the Valley and they’re making a difference. And as part of our curriculum, it’s not just about service. It’s not just about looking at the governance structure and the volunteer administration and the financial management. It’s also about public policy. It’s also about building community, advocacy and community organizing. We have a course in there (built) specifically around civic engagement from a much more participatory aspect. That, along with service and advocacy, is what’s going to change the map, in the long run.”

Jendian said the Humanics Program is here for the long run. He said a generous contribution from the Whitney Foundation will ensure the awarding of grants to community-benefit organizations far into the future. He said work is underway to create a second endowment to further the program’s mission.

I suggested to Jendian that the Humanics Program is building ties with the Valley’s city halls based on four points: 1.) First class students; 2.) Talent that often sticks around after graduation; 3.) Financial security within the program; 4.) The need is out there.

Jendian smiled. “We can move this dial.”

Which I took to mean: “Positive change, here we come!”

Jendian said the Humanics Program’s mission can be boiled down to the three E’s: Exceptional leaders, enhanced organizations, enriched communities.”

Jendian embraces this mission outside the classroom. I have seen him at work as an advocate at Fresno City Hall, helping “move this dial” when it comes to reformed rental housing regulations.

Simmons, too, is one to couple theory with hard work in the real world of policy advocacy. He is a long time member of Fresno’s dynamic Historic Preservation Commission.

Simmons told me that Humanics is the study of leadership for the good of humanity in body, mind and spirit.

“Fresno State has the largest Humanics Program and the largest student philanthropy program of any other university in the West,” Simmons said.

Educators are accustomed to saying they are educating leaders for the future. But the students in the Fresno State Humanics Program, Simmons said, “are leaders right now. Our students are engaged in things like getting people registered to vote, making sure that the census is equitable. We have some of our graduates in the California Assembly. We have some of our graduates who are serving on boards and commissions in the city and the county…. Our students are making a huge difference in so many different areas.”

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.