PILSEN — Like many college grads, Jessica Pipkins has struggled to pay off her student loan debt, slowly chipping away at the $35,000 she still owes from the bachelor's degree she completed in 2007.
But the 29-year-old Uptown resident and Wayne State University graduate is hopeful she'll soon make a bigger dent in her debt — by volunteering.
SponsorChange.org — an organization new to Chicago — pairs college graduates with nonprofits looking for an extra set of skilled hands. In exchange for their volunteer work, the grads get money put toward the repayment of their student loans.
"People are getting crushed with debt as higher education costs are skyrocketing," said Shawn Agyeman, chief marketing officer for SponsorChange. "We just want people who have skills and are very interested in helping the overall community."
Kyla Gardner chats with DNAinfo Radio about how SponsorChange.org helps students pay off student loans and helps nonprofits get volunteers:
She's helping the Pilsen tech hub, co-working space and training center put together a comprehensive marketing plan. Blue 1647 is the first Chicago partnership for SponsorChange, which is already active in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. It plans to begin working with more Chicago nonprofits this summer.
Blue 1647 CEO Emile Cambry described SponsorChange's setup as "a win-win."
"The benefit for us as a nonprofit [is] we get a chance to get some talent to help us out without having to spend any money. We're very cash-strapped." he said. For the volunteers, it's "impactful temporary work, which might look better on a resume than a temporary job."
For Pipkins, it's a chance to expand her skills.
"SponsorChange has connections with all type of organizations that you might [otherwise] not be able to tap into," she said. "My goal is to really get more tech-based experience that I need."
She hopes to pull in more tech companies as clients after her SponsorChange project ends in June, the same month she's also set to complete her certificate in Integrated Marketing Communications from DePaul University.
"I am always doing a thousand different things," she said.
SponsorChange is designed for busy young professionals who might already have a full-time job, but need help making loan payments, Agyemen said.
For part-time work, "most people I know right now do something in the retail sector," he said. "What we offer is the expansion of your skills and networking."
SponsorChange averages about $20 per hour for its "skill-based volunteering," Agyeman said.
The loan payment cash comes from, of course, sponsors, individuals and corporations that choose to donate to a specific cause, a specific postgrad volunteer, or SponsorChange's coffers in general.
Pipkins said she'll get $2,000 to put toward her student loans when her project ends in June.
"Of course I want money," she said. "But at the end of the day, it's more so being able to connect with an organization like Blue and all these other tech companies."