By Elisabeth Wall
Rev. Dr. Chris May, an adjunct professor at Appalachian State University, has dedicated most of her adult life to service. She is a retired Naval officer. She was founding board vice president of F.A.R.M. Cafe, a pay-what-you-can community cafe in Boone. She is a board member of One World Everybody Eats (OWEE) and is writing a biography of its founder, Denise Cerreta. She is an ordained Interfaith minister. She serves on the board of Unity Tables, a community cafe incubator, and Hospitality House of Boone, an 85-bed facility serving the homeless population in a seven-county region of western North Carolina.
Even her teaching is reflective of a servant mentality: for the past two years she has taught Principles of Fundraising and Introduction to Not-for-Profit Organizations at Appalachian. And, next fall, she will be conducting a First Year Seminar on hunger. “The content goes beyond hunger for food,” she said. “It’s also the hunger for community, hunger for spirituality and hunger for community engagement.”
May, an Indiana native, hungered for community engagement even as a young girl. She enlisted at age 18 and said she was drawn to the Navy by a sense of camaraderie and because she “liked the idea of a group doing something together for the greater good. I don’t think I put that together then, but the idea of community in action together spoke to my heart.” Her mother was an important influence, she said. “She taught me as a young girl to be active in my school and community and to be ambitious. In that regard, I am indebted to her.”
May was integral to the launch of F.A.R.M Cafe in 2012. May’s wife and former founding board member of F.A.R.M. Cafe Dr. Linda Coutant said, in her role as board vice president May “raised much of the money needed to launch [the program] and wrote many of the policies and procedures and paperwork to form the non-profit. She also wrote the proposal to negotiate with Boone Drug to lease their space.”
May also wrote OWEE’s 80-page manual “OWEE Guide to Starting a Community Cafe,” which is used by all start-up cafes. The book grew out of her dissertation on the pay-what-you-can community cafe model, which was the first scholarly work on this phenomenon. “She has contributed a lot to the development of pay-what-you-can community cafes and is considered the scholarly expert in this field,” Coutant said.
May hopes to continue her work on hunger and empower students to make a difference. She is heartened by the students she encounters at Appalachian. “I see these millennials a little differently. They have a heart for [community engagement] already. They are invested in each other and their community and are wanting activities that speak to their heart as well as to their future careers.“
Stationed in Japan, Italy, Scotland, Hawaii and other stateside locations during her career in the Navy, May said traveling at a young age “just blew my mind open.” And, she said, the students at Appalachian “can experience that right here. If they volunteer, they might be next to a homeless person, or an elderly gentleman who struggles to make it on Social Security, or a family in need, and those different circumstances are getting into their consciousness and changing their perceptions whether they even know it.”
As for her fellow faculty, “I hope they realize how valuable their expertise can be to fledgling non-profits,” she said. “They don’t necessarily need to serve on the board, or devote hours and hours. But they have knowledge to share.”
“Millennials… have a heart for [community engagement] already. They are invested in each other and their community and are wanting activities that speak to their heart as well as to their future careers.”
– Rev. Dr. Chris May, who teaches courses related to non-profit organizations