Friday, November 21, 2014

Eradicating Poverty and Supporting Economic Growth: A Regional Sociologist’s Mission

Meeting an alumna with a track record of presenting to the U.S. Congress and N.C. General Assembly is awe-inspiring, especially when you consider the fact that her work has led to economic development partnerships that receive millions in support. But, when you spend a few minutes with Dr. Leslie Hossfeld ‘83, watching her smile and wave to familiar faces walking by, any nervousness quickly fades away.

Leslie’s friendly, collaborative approach to working with others is essential to her success as co-founder of the Southeastern North Carolina Food Systems Program (SENCFS), which connects farmers to local businesses and consumers through its nonprofit initiative, Feast Down East.

Her latest partnership is one that she hopes many alumni will join. Feast Down East has teamed up with University Advancement, UNCW Campus Dining, Wilmington’s Residential Adolescent Achievement Place and the Food Bank of Central & Eastern N.C. to sponsor Hawks for Hunger to provide a meal to a local family for each new donation received from UNCW alumni and students. The campaign fits perfectly with the nonprofit’s goal of ensuring “access to healthy, affordable food” for everyone.

Partnering with Hawks for Hunger was an offer Leslie Hossfeld '83 couldn't refuse.

Spearheading Feast Down East represents just one part of Leslie’s plans to improve the quality of life in Southeastern North Carolina. As professor and chair of the UNCW Department of Sociology and Criminology, she is leading campus efforts to eradicate poverty in the region. Leslie believes we all are stewards of our communities and leads by example as a Clocktower Society member, showing consecutive philanthropic support to UNCW for at least three consecutive years.

“I focus on 11 counties in Southeastern North Carolina, and I work with USDA Rural Development thinking about change mechanisms we can have for our region. We want a vision for what that change could be over the next 10-20 years. How can we help grow communities? The university is a big part of that,” Leslie said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development provides financial support for economic development opportunities in rural areas.

One of her standout programs is the Community Campus at Hillcrest, where she has created a home base for the public sociology program through a partnership with the Wilmington Housing Authority. The program provides numerous service learning opportunities for students while also creating stronger connections between them and local residents.

“It gives me a lot of pride working with students who just jump into community work,” said Leslie.

“The students don’t come to a classroom on campus. It’s a two-semester program, so they have a year of working in the community.” She reflects on the impact these applied learning opportunities provide, citing how students often continue their studies and work in the same field. Feast Down East is another example of hands-on learning.

“[Students have] been involved in every aspect of this project. They are doing interviews, data analysis and planning and running programs,” she said.

Leslie still maintains a hands-on approach to addressing community social problems as she did during her work as a new graduate, teaching in South Africa during the apartheid era in the 80s and 90s.

Helping to shape her mission, Leslie is currently working on two books. One is a collaboration titled, “Food and Poverty,” and a second that will address the heritage of African-American agriculture in the Southeast. She also has inspiration from her decade-long project, Jobs for the Future Collaborative, which is currently conducting follow-up interviews with Robeson County residents on job losses due to the start of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

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