Beans and Rice, Inc. grew out of alternative break and service learning classes taught by Dr. Nelda K. Pearson in Radford University’s Department of Sociology. These courses began clearly converging into a service oriented path in the spring of 1997 as students were placed in afterschool programs at low income housing units. Several students enrolled repeatedly across semesters, causing Dr. Pearson to create more and more challenging leadership roles.
In March of that year Dr. Pearson arranged for a retreat at Highlander Research and Education Center. In addition to Dr. Pearson her students and former students who attended were Zeldoy “Pete” Barger, Stephanie Jo Edwards Hudgins, Eric Bucey, Dannah Card, and Brooke Thompson. These six people are Beans and Rice, Inc.’s founding members. During the retreat the group focused on whether to continue service through course work (which was becoming more difficult) or pursue a more serious path toward incorporation. The group concluded it was serious, and incorporation papers were filed by Dr. Pearson with the aid of Carol Cook Devilbiss, an attorney who provided services pro bono. The organization received its charter on April 8, 1997 and its IRS 501 (c)(3) determination letter in January of 1998. The Radford Rotary Club donated the $475.00 filing fee. Beans and Rice, Inc.’s founding set a pattern of accomplishing much with little and is symbolized in its name.
Beans and Rice, Inc.’s Name:
The organization’s name is a metaphor for its mission and actually predates its incorporation. Founding members were doing “beans and rice” before the formal organization existed. The last Alternative Break Class before incorporation met in an abandoned dormitory lounge. This lounge had a kitchenette with sink and refrigerator. As a fund raiser class members took turns preparing a simple meal of beans and rice and promoted the event across campus. The goal was to serve the meal and receive donations from those in attendance. Each week class members asked each other in the short hand that grows around community projects, “Who’s doing beans and rice this week?” Although only $250.00 was raised, the project became a great community builder – a kitchen table talk moment for both class members and friends.
Dr. Pearson’s service-learning students were placed at local afterschool programs headed by Radford University AmeriCorps member Pete Barger (one of the founding six). The only funds available for program materials and snacks were AmeriCorps related. Funding was inadequate and the children were constantly hungry. In order to address this need the group started an afterschool dinner one night per week. Although beans and rice was no longer served the group continued to ask, “Who’s doing beans and rice?” The phrase had become code for “who’s taking care of business?”
At the retreat the founders worked on a name and kept coming back to Beans and Rice. Highlander staff members, especially Candie Carawan, affirmed the name. She pointed out that beans and rice was a complete protein, was cheap, and provides for a basic need – a perfect metaphor for the founding members’ vision.