Nonprofit clinic students make world-wide impact

 

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Guatemalan mothers working as a part of ChiChi’s Blooms to create and sell handmade crafts in order to provide education for their children. (Photo Credit: ChiChi’s Blooms)

“It’s neat that a Clinic in Columbia, South Carolina, can work with groups that are making a positive impact on multiple continents,” said John Langford, a 2014 alumnus. “And that I can be a part of it… that’s the coolest thing for sure.”

During his third year, Langford was a student in USC Law’s Nonprofit Organizations Clinic class. He had the opportunity to work with Potters Water Action Group (PWAG), an organization that works with domestic and international groups supporting water purification efforts globally to provide clean water to people currently without access.  These efforts have reached towns and villages in Africa and South America, as well as many other countries.

“They are providing such a fundamental need in these countries, and it’s a great feeling to know that, even in a small way, I helped them provide that need,” said Langford.

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Richard Wukich, founder of Potters Water Action Group, and Atamora Village master potter Ibukunoluwa Ayoola (center) proudly displaying the first successful water filter produced in Nigeria. It will be dried, then fired in a brick kiln. Then it will be treated with a solution of colloidal silver. The finished filter sits in a five-gallon bucket with a spigot to draw off potable water. (Photo credit: Richard Wukich)

While PWAG had developed a water purification system and was disseminating this technique worldwide, it needed help structuring its organization legally so it could function appropriately and attract tax-deductible donations from foundations and individuals.  That’s when they contacted the School of Law’s clinic.

“We had talked about this for several years, and in order to make this all viable we needed to become a nonprofit,” said Richard Wukich, founder of PWAG. “One of my co-workers knew Jaclyn Cherry and was able to get us in touch with her and her students at USC.”

They weren’t alone.

In addition to the normal roster of South Carolina-based clients, the fall 2013 semester saw a total of three international organizations seeking assistance. The other two were the Emerging Science and Technology Policy Center, a group working internationally to educate leaders in advancements in science and technology; and ChiChi’s Blooms, a group based in Guatemala that provides education to disadvantaged children, and supports their mothers who make handmade crafts to provide for their families.

“Because the mission I work for is a Guatemalan nonprofit, and cannot have a business associated with it—and because I can’t have a Guatemalan business due to my visa status—I talked with Professor Cherry about incorporating in the US where we still maintain our home” said Cindy Gormley, founder of ChiChi’s Blooms.  “The students were able to take care of the paperwork for me and advise me on the first steps.  Now we have an official name and business entity, which opens up other possibilities for sales in the US.

“Being a nonprofit corporation will enable us to expand to stores in the US that sell fair trade items, and to internet markets like Etsy, and I am so thankful that what was a small project has now become a corporation.”

Under the direction of Associate Professor Jaclyn Cherry, the Nonprofit Organizations Clinic has helped over 100 unique clients over the past six years. And while it’s not unheard of for the clinic to handle international clients, three at one time was a bit unusual.

“It provides a bit more of a challenge, that’s for sure. Not only are you not in the same room with the client, you’re not even in the same time zone,” said Cherry. “But thanks to technology, we were able to connect with them wherever they were, using tools like Skype and email.”

Students in the clinic focus primarily on transactional law. They work with clients providing a wide range of services, whether it’s becoming incorporated, drafting bylaws or contracts, preparing 501(c)(3) applications, or attending board meetings. But regardless of the service, the goal is always the same: helping these organizations make a difference in the world.

“The program is very fulfilling. We are able to help [our clients] with their organizational structures and prepare documents so that they can function legally and carry out their missions of benefitting the communities they serve,” said Cherry. “It’s a global world now and thanks to the opportunities this clinic provides, our students are able to use their legal education and skills throughout the world to reach ours and the greater community.”