Senior business majors at Gannon University had the opportunity to dive head-first into the world of nonprofit work this semester as they spent countless hours of time and energy working with a local foundation to raise funds and spread the word.

Students in this semester’s Business Policy class worked alongside their teacher, Bruce Kibler – an assistant professor of management – and Julie Hartmann, a board member and co-chair of the Twilight Wish Foundation in Erie and an instructor of physical therapy at Gannon, to carry out a strategic plan for the foundation.

Hartmann said the Twilight Wish Foundation was founded at the national level in 2003, and that the Erie chapter – which covers all of Erie County – was formed in 2009. The nonprofit organization, which supports the slogan “celebrating seniors and making dreams come true,” strives to grant wishes to elderly clients.

Hartmann said the foundation in Erie has granted three wishes to date, including allowing an elderly couple a nice, private dinner at Ricardo’s restaurant in Erie, and granting another woman her wish to spend time with a golden retriever.

She said the latter wish was “the most heartwarming event of all three,” because the woman was so happy to be reunited with her favorite breed after giving up her own retriever because she could no longer care for him.

Hartmann said that in order to be granted a wish, a candidate must be 68 or older, have an income of more than 200 percent above poverty level, and they must be cognitively and physically able to accomplish whatever the wish is for. Candidates are recommended through nominations, and once the foundation in Erie recognizes the nomination, it is sent to the national headquarters for approval.

Kibler said he chose Twilight Wish for this class because the foundation had worked closely with a graduate business class last semester, where a strategic plan was developed. The undergraduates then, Kibler said, were in charge of implementing this plan.

Senior business finance and business administration major Ethan Keeler participated in the class as the overall project leader. He said he was essentially a mediator between his classmates, who were separated into different task-oriented groups, and the Twilight Wish Foundation.

He said the experience, while stressful at times, was overall a good one. “It’s a good way to wrap up our career at Gannon and to relate all the things we’ve learned thus far throughout our years here and really apply them to a real-life situation,” Keeler said. “It’s been really neat.”

Keeler, like most of the other students in the class, said he didn’t know much about Twilight Wish before he entered the class at the start of this semester, but he said it’s been nice to deal with the members of the board and get to know more about the foundation.

Hartmann said she, in turn, enjoyed working with the students on this project. “For me to get to know the other students on campus has been particularly rewarding,” she said. “We are so appreciative of everything they’ve done for us.”

Throughout the semester the Business Policy students have been working to implement five different goals that Kibler assigned the class on the first day. They got together at the end of the first class to decide what everyone’s role would be, and it came together with one overall organizational leader – Keeler – and five group leaders; one for each task.

Senior accounting major Amanda Haig was one of those group leaders, in charge of finding five speaking events for Hartmann to attend in order to raise awareness about the foundation. She said her experience in the class was both good and bad, because you learn different things from it.

Haig said learning how to interact and communicate with various people was one lesson she took from the experience. “But then you also run into the problem where people don’t want to contribute,” she said, “and then you have to kind of figure out a way around it and lean on the other people that are actually contributing to pull the project together.”

Likewise, senior accounting major Andrew Bemis said that, while challenging, his experience in the class was overall good. “What I have learned with working with my classmates is how, with group dynamics and strong leadership, a large group can come together and complete a rather large and complex project.”

And a “large and complex project” it was, according to Kibler, who teaches the class every semester at Gannon. He said that while it is no doubt hard work, and most students wouldn’t call it fun, it pays off for those who work hard.

“Those who really want to achieve come out of the class highly enriched,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag.”

Kibler said he has had five students this semester tell him that the class experience has been transformative in some way. “To me, that’s a lot of students in one semester,” he said, “so I consider that to be a huge success.”

This article by Kelly Moreland originally published in The Gannon Knight on Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2013.