Communications student creates video on homelessness that goes viral

Marisa Gartland, Staff

What is the power behind a single dollar? It can buy a one day parking pass on campus, maybe even a pack of gum. Without much thought, you’d probably give it to a friend short on cash and never worry about getting it back. Would you ever think an insignificant dollar bill could really make much of a difference in anything?

It’s S324 persuasion speech class, and professor Tammy Voigt is ready to dish out the first speaking assignment for the course. In order to really engage students, Voigt decided to try out a new assignment with unique qualities.

“I had a similar assignment when I had taught the course before, but it was a hypothetical scenario,” Voigt said. “I realized that many of the students were not invested beyond earning a grade, so the persuasive appeal seemed less sincere, somehow, almost mechanical.”

She began exploring scenarios and crafted this: All 21 students would turn in a single dollar, and Voigt herself would put forth $4 to make it an even $25. The students would then give a speech, persuading their classmates why they should be awarded the money.

Students, one after the other gave their best go at winning the cash. One student offered to buy donuts for the entire class, while another persuaded his classmates to help get his dog some new toys.

Then there’s Jonathan Ham, communications senior. Jonathan’s idea had no plans of donuts or dog toys. Instead his plan wouldn’t have much benefit towards himself at all.

“Jonathan Ham took his persuasive skills to the next level,” Voigt said. “He told us how he would go above and beyond and would hit the streets to make a difference.

Ham intended to take the money, head to the closest fast-food joint, with dollar burgers, buy as many as he could with $25 and distribute them to the homeless in Louisville. Not only was he willing to selflessly spend the money, he was willing to record the whole thing and present it to the class.

“I knew that making a video would be my selling point. People want to see where their money is going – it’s like instant gratification,” Ham said. “A lot of other people suggested writing a check to charity. If they’d won, you’d never see or hear anything about it.”

Ham took home the prize, and took to the nearest drive-thru to fulfill his duties.

“The majority of the people we gave food to were really accepting and grateful,” Ham said.

Not only did the project gain notoriety in the classroom, but the impressiveness of his actions went national when a Huffington Post journalist picked up the story. Ham never expected to gain so much attention.

“I’m hoping the experiment really put things in perspective for my classmates,” Ham said.

His classmates weren’t the only ones affected by this selfless display.

Ham said that professor Voigt cried when she saw the video.

The experiment set the bar high for future students taking the course, which will be offered again in the spring of 2015, with a prerequisite of S246. Voigt plans to continue to have the assignment.

Ham is also walking away with an enhanced perspective.

“The experience helped to reinforce my idea that helping other people, especially those less fortunate than you, needs to be done more,” Ham said. “Overall I think this experiment really taught me the importance and the power a single dollar can have.”