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Spotlight: MS Accountancy class leaves legacy of service

by Kathleen Joyce, Notre Dame News and Information

April 5, 2005

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Members of Notre Dame’s Master of Science in Accountancy (MS Accountancy) class of 2004 proved they could do more than crunch numbers.  Just ask the students and staff of St. John Vianney Primary School in Belize City, Belize, which just last month received a big check, thanks to the students’ heartfelt efforts.

Last February, the 93 members of the class held a Valentine’s Day flower sale that raised $2,300 in profits and an additional $700 in donations for a Catholic primary school located in the Port Loyola community, one of the city’s two poorest and most crime-stricken neighborhoods.

Linda Espahbodi, director of the program, attributes the success of the fundraising effort to the collaboration between the program’s staff and students.  Steve Matzke and Vicky Holaway served as the principal staff organizers, and student organizers included Elizabeth Kuck, Toby Biebl, Brian McKinnon, Kristopher Allen and Grayson Allen.

“In a situation that is very different from the classroom setting, you see different strengths come out from different people,” Espahbodi said.  “[The flower sale] was so different for them.  It’s not accounting; it’s doing something that’s extremely different.  And I think part of the whole learning process is getting people out of their comfort zones and letting them grow.”

The flowers for the sale were supplied by Miguel Saavedra of Flowerfarmstogo.com.  The money will benefit the Charles T. Hunter Commission for Social Outreach at St. John’s College in Belize City for initiatives to assist St. John Vianney Primary School.

According to Dianne Lindo, director of the Hunter Commission and former teacher at St. John Vianney, the majority of the primary school’s almost 750 students come from needy and impoverished families; many live in dysfunctional homes.  The school’s facilities are very basic and often inadequately accommodate both the number of students and their learning needs, Lindo said.

The donation from the MS Accountancy class will go toward a number of improvements for the school, including the purchase of sturdy picnic tables with roofs for outdoor lessons away from poorly-ventilated and overcrowded classrooms, gift certificates to each classroom teacher for much-needed school supplies, and funding for field trips to afford students a nature experience right in their own country.

The contribution marks the first time Notre Dame MS Accountancy students have collaborated to raise money for a charitable cause.  Espahbodi traced the roots of the idea for the students to get involved in community service to the words of John Affleck-Graves, now the University’s executive vice president, to the Notre Dame Accountancy Advisory Board in April 2003.  In his talk, Graves discussed the three missions of the University:  teaching, research, and community service.

“When I looked at it… here in the business school, we have the teaching, we have the research, but there are opportunities for community service,” Espahbodi said.  “And I thought to myself, someday we’ll have that opportunity come up.  So that was the seed that was planted in my brain a couple years ago, and I always thought, ‘How can we bring this part into our program as well?’  That was really the initiator.”

The opportunity arrived in February 2004 when Espahbodi became aware of the needs of St. John Vianney Primary School through contact with Lindo, a friend and high school classmate from St. Catherine’s Academy in Belize City, where Espahbodi grew up.  When Lindo met with the students at Notre Dame and told them of her work in Belize, the students asked how they could assist her efforts.

Espahbodi expressed hope that this type of community service could continue for future MS Accountancy classes.

“It takes a lot of effort from staff, and in some cases faculty as well, to kind of push the initiative forward,” she said.  “So we need some consensus building to continue in this direction.  It all depends on when the class comes in, what it is they would like to do… to leave as their legacy.”