“It’s like Because We Can is a book, and food recovery is just the first few chapters,” said Kendall Tubb, the organization’s cofounder. “We have done a bunch of different projects, but the whole reason why we started this was simply to make a difference in society. The whole point is to promote social justice, build efficacy and empower students to realize that they can make a difference.”
Because We Can may have gained recent fame in Russellville through their on-going campus food recovery initiative as well as the highly anticipated Green and Gold Cupboard for ATU students and faculty. But Kendall said the mission of Because We Can goes way beyond that.
A few years ago, Kendall, along with friends Matt Freeman and Jenna Cahoon, left one of Dr. Sean Huss’s sociology classes feeling frustrated that more wasn’t being done to tackle social issues and they wanted to do something about it. “We were finally like ‘we need to do something’, but we weren’t sure what to do or how to do it,” Kendall said. “So we decided to start an organization because we thought that would be the best way to get something done. We asked Dr. Huss to be our advisor. Later on Dr. Stobaugh joined as our co-advisor because the organization grew really fast.”
Because We Can officially became a registered student organization at Arkansas Tech in December of 2014 and quickly grew from three to almost 200 members. Since its inception, Because We Can has organized toy drives for foster children in Yell and Pope Counties, held food drives, and has worked with the Russellville School District to collect hygiene items for students. “A lot of the students are from low income, lower social-economic status households and they are being sent home and are getting bullied because they don’t have the best hygiene when they can’t help it,” Kendall said.
In addition, Because We Can also partners with other student organizations at Arkansas Tech to support their colleagues’ efforts. “Part of our goal is to change the culture on campus so people are more likely to get involved,” Kendall said. “A lot of people drop out because they don’t have friends and they are struggling and don’t know what to do. We want to make a network where everyone is interconnected. We say that we are the Tech family, well, we want to make sure that ‘we are the Tech Family’ means what it says it means.”
Through their involvement in Because We Can, many students have been impacted in a positive way. I spoke with several members about how the organization has impacted them and changed their outlook on life. Kendall’s educational objectives have changed dramatically. “I have definitely come out of my shell a lot since working with Because We Can,” Kendall said. “It has changed my total outlook on life and goal in life. I did want to be a neuroscientist, I still love it, but I realized that research wasn’t for me. What really drives me is applying these concepts and making concrete changes in society. So I’m going into a master’s program for social work at the University of Buffalo. I want to work with communities and nonprofit organizations to help make a world a better place. I definitely didn’t have that mind set before working with Because We Can. I guess I wasn’t brave enough or didn’t think I could do it. But now working with them, I see that not only I can do this type of work but everyone can. Everyone can make a difference.”
Lantwan Traylor will be a senior in the behavior science department this fall and senior co-chair for Because We Can. “I would say being in the organization has made me more confident in talking to people,” Lantawn said. “It has helped me become more of a leader and has made me more aware of social issues like poverty, hunger and homelessness. Learning about food insecurity in the River Valley has really opened my eyes and made me want to be more involved. After I graduate I plan to get my masters in social work and eventually become a counselor. I love Because We Can. It’s a great organization, and I think overall it has had a positive impact on the community and its members.”
Sydney Stone, a triple major in psychology, sociology, and criminal justice said the organization has changed her outlook on the future. “I took one of Dr. Huss’s classes and he kind of scared us into it,” said Sydney. “But it was good because it got me to go to the meetings. After that I was hooked. When you show up for food recovery you don’t realize the impact it’s having until you take it to the people and you see their faces. All of the projects we do really make a difference. I like it because it makes me a little more optimistic about the future. You watch the news and it’s something negative every day. It makes me feel better about our generation. Maybe we can turn it around.”
Mason Sims, a recent graduate from Arkansas Tech said: “I’ve gotten a lot of experience through food recovery, being shift leader and working with people back and forth on morning and night shifts, and getting to see the faces of people who are being fed. Through Because We Can I really got to put myself out there and really see how our work is affecting the community. Like with the hygiene drive I helped transport all of the hygiene items last year to where they were going to distribute items to community members that needed it. It was a good learning experience, too, because it’s not one of those things that you see if you are not a part of it. It was a really empathic experience. I was glad to be able to do my part. This fall I will be attending the University of Nevada Reno for my masters of educational leadership. I’ve also gotten a job as a graduate resident director while I’m there and I’m looking forward to it.”
Marlie Ball is also a psychology, sociology and criminal justice major at Arkansas Tech. “I think what makes Because We Can great is that it’s student led,” Marlie said. “We’re in college, we are taking responsibility for our own future. We are taking initiative and I think that is awesome. I love Because We Can because all of the members are nice and friendly and want to help others. The biggest thing I can take away from it is realizing that I can make a change in my surroundings and do good things, which is such a great feeling. Even when I move away from Russellville I plan on taking what I’ve learned from Because We Can into my new community and try to make a change there. I plan on volunteering at other organizations and just reaching out to help others.”
The faculty advisors have seen a change in their students as well. “We want to emphasize the impact the students have, what they get out of this,” said Dr. James Stobaugh, co-advisor to Because We Can. “The ones that become involved we see are doing better in their classes because they care more about being here and making the campus and community a better place. They are flourishing.”
As advisors, Professors Dr. Sean Huss and Dr. James Stobaugh provide guidance and assist in keeping the students on the right track. “What we do is really different from other traditional student service programs. We let them call the tune,” Dr. Huss said. “What we do is just help facilitate and keep them on the right mission.”
That mission is a strong ethical commitment to helping the most vulnerable. “The poor in this area are quantitatively different than what most people think of as poverty,” Dr. Huss said. “The people who get a lot of the food from the food recovery or food pantries are people that just can’t make ends meet. Sometimes they are working two jobs at minimum wage. That’s what poverty looks like in rural areas.”
“There are families that are living in hotels and they are faced with the choice of buying food or just having a roof over their head or buying medicine,” Dr. Stobaugh said. “They shouldn’t have to make that choice, but we live in a society where people are. We want to help people that are the most vulnerable.”
Because We Can is an all-inclusive welcoming group, anyone can join. “If you are willing to roll up your sleeve and get involved you become a member of Because We Can,” Dr. Stobaugh said.
Members of Because We Can plan to work with local high schools in the future and share their leadership and knowledge with area students. “We tailor things in such a way to try to create a necessary leadership capacity and civic engagement,” Dr. Huss said. “One of our long term goals is developing a leadership program within Because We Can that in turn will train people. Students can go into the high schools to teach the students how to do this stuff, too.”
Since the beginning, the Arkansas Tech administration has been supportive of Because We Can’s endeavors. “We have had a really supportive administration from the president on down,” Dr. Stobaugh said. “Every level has supported us in our efforts. They have fostered an environment that has given us the freedom for us to go out with the students and turn them loose to see what they can do and what they are capable of.”
The students involved with Because We Can have a determination and focus for social justice that it is contagious.
“Our students have grit,” Dr. Huss said. “Our attitude is usually they come in and they think it’s the end of the world when something has derailed. We try to explain to them that the first word you hear is ‘no,’ but no doesn’t mean we stop. ‘No’ means we find another way to yes. Perseverance pays off. You have to be irrational enough to believe that you can change the world.”