When Melissa Longman enrolled in Angela White-Jones’ grant writing course as part of her dual Master of Public Administration / Master of Nonprofit Management program, she expected that what she learned would help her in her professional pursuits — just maybe not quite so quickly.

Longman, a social worker by trade, also serves on the executive board of the David Posnack Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Davie, Florida. Through her work with the organization, she learned that federal funds were available for projects aimed at providing opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities. Having just completed White-Jones’ grant writing class, she decided to take a chance.

“I knew that I had already created a grant application for the course, so the timing was perfect,” Longman says. “The window on the application was pretty short, so there wouldn’t have been time to write an application from scratch.”

Utilizing her professional experience and her professor’s expert guidance, Longman drafted a grant proposal for HireAbility, an initiative through the David Posnack JCC that would use a food truck as a vehicle — literally and figuratively — to provide adults with developmental disabilities an opportunity to learn marketable work skills in a community-facing environment.

“The beautiful thing about the food truck is that it’s mobile,” Longman says. “You’re not tied to a fixed location, so you can get these wonderful men and women out to locations where they can really feel like they’re a part of the community.”

Longman says the food truck would also serve as a recruiting tool for the participants, as people can see them practicing in-demand food service skills that might lead to long-term employment.

“For me, it’s personal,” Longman says. “I have a teenage daughter with developmental disabilities who is quickly approaching the age where she would benefit from a program like this. I’ve done the research, and I know that demand for a program like this exists from the community, these adults and their families.”

Longman’s hard work paid off, as she submitted her application through the David Posnack JCC and received $1.5 million in federal funding for the project.

“Missy’s passion and incredible work ethic helped secure funding our HireAbility program that will provide a work-life experience for so many adults with developmental challenges,” says Scott Ehrlich, CEO of the David Posnack JCC. “Missy continues to make incredible impact in the community through her desire to help others. We are so proud to have her as an executive board member.”

White-Jones says the success of Longman’s project is not only a success story but a reinforcement of the School of Public Administration’s experience-based learning philosophy.

“I’m so happy for Melissa,” White-Jones says. “To see her take an idea in this course and turn it into not only a fully formed and submitted grant proposal, but then to see it be funded in this capacity is why our experiential learning programs are second to none. It is nothing short of a privilege for me to assist our students with the opportunity to engage in real-world learning — assignments that not only strengthen them professionally but make a positive impact in communities.”