Hunger Has a Face: Creating a Culture of Storytelling in the CIS 280 Classroom

Dr. Sandra Ehrlich helps prepare meals at Bean's Café Dr. Sandra Ehrlich helps prepare meals at Bean's Café

College of Business and Public Policy Professor Dr. Sandra Ehrlich Feeds the Hungry at Bean’s Café

College of Business and Public Policy (CBPP) Marketing & Management Professor, Dr. Sandra Ehrlich, joined her fellow Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Board members and colleagues in a day of impact to feed the hungry for AFP Alaska Volunteer Day—A Day to Care at Bean’s Café.

Developing the Craft of Storytelling.

“Lessons learned from casting a net to feed the hungry across Anchorage converged with creating a culture of storytelling in the CIS 280—Managerial Communications classroom,” said Ehrlich.

“Increasingly, research posits storytelling is a vital, strategic business tool for managers and leaders to engage and inspire an audience. We work one-on-one alongside our students to teach them how to harness the power of language to share a compelling story to connect authentically with their audience. We embrace their journey to build a narrative with intellectual and emotional impact to forge audience connections to change attitudes and behaviors,” Ehrlich said.

Layering the Power of Presence.

“Then, we layer on the power of personal presence and impact—how to command a room, how to use their body and voice to support their message, how to use the power of the pause, and how to reinforce their narrative through imagery,” she said.

“As business communication professionals we are always evolving and striving to communicate powerfully from a position of strength. Learning the skills of strategic storytelling bridges our students’ journey to become stronger business writers and presenters in the workplace. We want our CBPP students to hone their words into well-crafted stories that will connect, resonate, and transform their audience,” said Ehrlich.

“Like the wind that enters without knocking, stories share vital lessons with audiences that link individuals, cultures, and generations. Most importantly, stories have the power to transform and change our lives. We ask our students to empathetically step into the shoes of their audience. One of the life lessons I learned in the kitchen of Bean’s Café that I will share in the classroom, is that by stepping into the shoes of the homeless, I learned that hunger has a face,” she said.

Dr. Ehrlich chops onions before moving to the serving line. Dr. Ehrlich chops onions before moving to the serving line.

Sharing a Nonprofit Story: Hunger Has a Face.

When I rounded the corner to East Third Avenue and Karluk Street in the heart of Anchorage at 7am, a line had already formed. The parking lot was filled with huddles of people. Some had slept on a piece of torn cardboard on the street, in an abandoned car, a littered stairwell, or in a desolate, dank building that night. Others had slept on a mat at the Brother Francis Shelter across the parking lot. Some came carrying white garbage bags of their belongings…all, were hungry.

As I stepped out of the car, there was a tinge of cool air. My body quickly shivered and then I stopped. Surrounding me where men and women wearing multiple layers of clothing. Many donned blankets draped around them to keep them warm. A long queue had already formed…each of them had a story to tell.

I signed in, was greeted by the Chef, and was instructed to, “Grab an apron, hairnet, wash your hands, and find some gloves…let’s get to work, we have hungry people to feed.” Serving some of the most vulnerable in our community, Bean’s Cafe feeds everyone that comes through the door, feeding nearly 1,000 people a day.

After chopping mounds of onions, I washed my hands again, donned new gloves, and moved to the serving line. In each of our lives, we need to stop and take a look from the other side of the counter…to tell our story authentically and effectively.

As I looked out the Bean’s Café serving window to the long, serpentine line of people, I felt overwhelmed. They stood quietly in the line, patiently waiting for a glimpse of that morning’s meal. I swallowed, grabbed one of the stainless trays, and filled bowls with Cheerios to the rim.

To my right, my AFP colleague ladled fruit cocktail. To my left, another Board member added a piece of warm toast. Each of us had a role to play. A cup of hot coffee was at the final station. As each stainless tray passed in front of me, I realized hunger had a face.

Lessons Learned at Bean’s Café.

Stories make us stronger. Now when my students hear the word ‘homeless’ or ‘hungry’ they have a fuller sense of what that means. When sharing my Bean’s Café experience in the classroom, I weaved the numbers into context as well,” Ehrlich said.

“Hungry Alaskans face difficult choices. They struggle with hunger and the face of hunger is changing and escalating. One in seven Alaskans and one in five children, struggle with food insecurity in our community—they do not know where their next meal is coming from,” she said.

“I walked back to my car that morning with one firm conviction. Nobody should have to go hungry. Not one single person. Not for any reason,” said Ehrlich.

From the Kitchen at Bean’s Café to the Nonprofit Project in the Classroom.

“At heart, we are storytellers. An integral component of leadership, storytelling is an essential, strategic business skill for our CBPP students to master. The ability to tell effective leadership stories connects and intrinsically links us to one another and to a business. It provides shared meaning, creates context, instills purpose, and drives action,” Ehrlich said.

“As our students are preparing their Individual Nonprofit Presentations, they are learning about how many individuals are struggling to make ends meet across our community. We urge them to walk in the shoes of the population served by their nonprofit. As they are building a frame for their nonprofit’s story, they may need to search the cracks and crevices to tell their nonprofit’s story authentically,” she said.

Creating a Culture of Storytelling.

Ultimately, our goal is to create a culture of storytelling in the CIS 280 classroom. We want our CBPP students to use purpose-driven, mission-centric storytelling as a core, professional business skill to inform business strategy and growth.