CWU business majors (pictured clockwise from top left) Evan Larson, Sara Wilson, Noah Anette and Victor Marshall created a senior project that helps support local businesses and families in need.

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Finishing college and moving on to the next stage in life is a monumental occasion for all who experience it, but being able to finish things off by giving back to the community creates memories that will last forever.

Central Washington University business majors Sara Wilson, Evan Larson, Noah Arnett, and Victor Hitt have developed a capstone project in their management class that is designed to help local restaurants hit hard by the closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The group is taking donations gathered through a social media campaign, purchasing restaurant gift cards, and distributing them to local families in need.

Larson explained that the capstone projects in their class typically have taken on issues at more of a global level, but in light of the pandemic students in the class were tasked with finding ways they could help the community closest to them. With many of the students in the group having lived in Ellensburg for years now, he said it came naturally to gravitate their ideas towards helping people in Ellensburg.

“We all came together and realized that Ellensburg has this kind of identity as a small town,” he said. “We all appreciate it. It’s why we all love Ellensburg. We thought about what we could do to help the community and immediately what came to mind was helping small businesses.”

Hitt said that restaurants made sense to the group, as they tend to be one of the only places that students can congregate and socialize during their time at Central, providing them a sense of community during their college years.

“It’s really what appeals to us and we want to help them,” he said.

Wilson said the group began formalizing plans for the project in early April and launched it the 16th of that month. During the planning phase, she said the group brainstormed a list of restaurants they though might welcome the help. After coming up with approximately 15, they began to make calls to gauge their interest in participating.

“We asked them if they were in a position where they needed help,” she said. “Some businesses are doing OK during this pandemic, and they had no problem telling us that.”

Knowing they needed a way to effectively channel the gift cards to families in need, Wilson said the group reached out to Ellensburg Mayor Bruce Tabb, who placed them in touch with Charli Sorensen who is a member of the Community Resource and Economic Recovery group and chairs the Community Recovery Fund Distribution Committee. She said being able to partner with the board and use their logo in their campaign has helped build donor confidence during the campaign.

“That has really gotten a positive reaction from the community,” she said. “I think it also builds our credibility as college students.”


Since its launch, the project has gained traction with almost $1,400 in donations to date. Donors include family and friends of the group members, as well as community members. CWU President James Gaudino and his wife, Katie, even donated $200 to the cause. Although the class ends on May 25, Wilson said the group has talked about continuing the project into the summer depending on interest.

As the project concludes, Larson said the group will work with the list of restaurants that are on board and pool the money together to determine how many gift cards they can purchase, while also deciding on what denominations are appropriate.

“A large part is seeing how far we can get with our fundraising,” he said.

As the group members near graduation and move on with their lives, Larson said the experience will continue to resonate with all of them as a lasting memory of their time as both Wildcats and Ellensburg community members.

“Especially at a time like this, we see all throughout the country organizations and people coming together to see how they can help,” he said. “This is our chance to experience that and see it not from the donation side but from the organization side. Further on down the line if we have opportunities to do something like this, it’ll give us reflection back on this moment.”

Those interested in donating to the project can access their fundraising site at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-going-forward.


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