Assistant Dean Laurie Levesque was in a pinch. Her MGT 200 class relies on local non-profits to present their business model to the students and then evaluate the students’ recommendations. Ten days before the class was set to start, one of the non-profits dropped out, leaving her an organization short. In her scramble to find a last-minute replacement, Ralph Greenberg's card literally dropped out of one of her folders and into her lap.

Levesque remembered that her former student Russell Goldenberg ’08, CEO of the cookie delivery business City Baked and a longtime friend of Greenberg’s son, had given her the card that fall. Levesque made a quick call to Greenberg. Three minutes into her pitch, he was on board.

This chance partnership with Suffolk was fitting for Greenberg, whose Key for Hope program had a similarly fortuitous beginning. The idea for the organization hit Greenberg somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on his flight back from the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland, where he completed a poverty walk with 750,000 other activists. In the midst of a conversation with the woman sitting next to him, she asked if he had heard of the Paper Clip story—how a group of schoolchildren in Tennessee started collecting paper clips in an effort to quantify the enormity of the Holocaust. The light bulb went off. If people can collect paper clips, why not keys? Greenberg had been in the recycling business for most of his professional career. “Brass is a good commodity,” says Greenberg. “So I thought the best way to help people would be recycling keys and turning the money into food.” Last year alone, he collected enough keys to buy 13 tons of food—enough to feed two football stadiums full of hungry people.

When he got the call from Levesque, he saw the promise immediately. “The young adults of this world are the future of what we want to do with Key for Hope,” says Greenberg. “I was honored.”

The challenge for the Business School students, then, was to put together new ideas for Greenberg—searching out possible partnerships, thinking of creative collection methods, and figuring out ways Key for Hope could grow. That’s the basic idea behind MGT 200, says Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship Thomas Kenworthy: to offer undergraduates the chance to work as consultants for a non-profit, as they learn how they can use business acumen outside of Wall Street. “Ultimately, we want them to succeed in the class because their efforts can help the entire community,” says Kenworthy, who has taught the class for three semesters.

The students’ ideas ran the gamut. One group suggested partnering with local t-shirt icon Johnny Cupcakes on a special fundraising “key-shirt.” Another suggested collecting the spent casings from firing ranges. Others used family connections to put Ralph in touch with possible sports teams and businesses partners. One of the groups even delivered a suitcase full of keys, proof that their collection plan was immediately productive.

Greenberg was touched by the students, and impressed with their poise. “There was one student, who, when she got up to speak, blew my mind. She had such spirit and spunk, it gave me chills. She spoke as if she were running for office,” says Greenberg. “It was so great to see students sharing in something like this.”

Greenberg’s Suffolk experience offered him ideas and an expanded support network—one that already seems to be helping his non-profit grow.

Jeffrey Tajeda, one of the students from MGT 200, contacted Greenberg a few months after the project. Tajeda wondered if Greenberg remembered him—he was the student in the puffy jacket who had approached Greenberg after the presentation on Key for Hope, wondering about the possibility of getting his former middle school involved. Tejada had good news. He had gone ahead and begun working on the project. “They already have keys,” he said.

In addition to teaching two new sections of MGT 200 this coming semester, Professor Kenworthy and Professor Ken Hung, chairperson of the Information Systems and Operations Management Department, are discussing how the juniors and seniors in ISOM 341 Project Management can work with Greenberg on moving some of the MGT 200 proposals forward.