DLA students

Jacob Chobany knew the COVID-19 pandemic had put a stop to nearly everything around him. But the virus did little to shut down his passion for helping his community.

Chobany, an undergraduate finance student, along with classmates Mare Santulli, Zach Dezenzo, Scott Thoelke and Colin Shaughnessy, worked together on a project as part of their experience with the Dean’s Leadership Academy (DLA) at Fisher College of Business.

The students originally planned to speak to children at the Dowd Center — an afterschool program in Columbus, Ohio, that puts an emphasis on physical activity, along with homework and other academic health for children in homeless families — about how to handle adversity.

Then COVID-19 brought outreach services and organizations to a standstill. The Dowd Center shut its doors; Chobany and his teammates had to construct a new plan.

I knew I still wanted to help the Dowd Center because I could tell how big of a difference this organization makes in the lives of the people it serves,” Chobany said.

And that’s when he discovered the Homeless Families Foundation (HFF), which partners with the Dowd Center. The HFF hosts an annual “spring clean,” where it asks for donated toiletries, soap, towels and other cleaning supplies.

The pandemic only increased the need for these essential items. As a result, Chobany’s group created a new plan: a social media campaign to raise money for HFF members to purchase supplies and donate them to homeless families.

In just two weeks, the Fisher students raised approximately $250.

“To me, this seemed like the most efficient way to make an impact while keeping everyone involved socially distant and safe,” Chobany said. “Given the state of panic, confusion and the economic situations that the pandemic caused, it was awesome to see that peers, family members and colleagues were willing to donate to people that they may never see or meet.”

Several other groups of students within the DLA also decided to help where COVID-19 had hurt.

Sanjana Vivekanandan
Sanjana Vivekanandan 

Kyle Prete, along with his teammates — Maria Sugar, Alex Oldiges, Zihan Li and Sanjana Vivekanandan — focused on addressing illiteracy.

Before the pandemic, the group had participated in a reading session with the 2nd & 7 Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting reading by providing free books and positive role models to children.

“We read to second graders at Shady Lane Elementary School and answered their questions about college,” Prete said. “In addition, my group was planning to contact other local elementary schools, develop our own reading workshop and donate the books we collected from the community.”

But COVID-19 dispersed all students to their homes, hampering the group’s ability to engage with the young students.

Kyle Prete headshot
Kyle Prete

Undeterred, Prete found the Columbus Dream Center, which provides free, routine outpatient health and wellness services to the medically underserved and homeless in Columbus. The organization was able to help distribute more than 800 books the students had collected.

“All of those books provide kids a way to stay active with reading during this unprecedented time,” Prete said.

Chobany urged other students to learn more about the Dean’s Leadership Academy, a selective offering open to students from across the university who are interested in earning a Certificate of Leadership, which is akin to a minor.

“I signed up for the program because leadership has always been something that has intrigued me,” he said. “Whether it be a business, athletic team, or even within a family, the group gets nowhere without an effective leader. I want to one day become that leader, and the DLA has given me the opportunity and tools to do so.”