Fellowship with SVPSA Helped SOS Grow

by Rachel Burstein

Case Study on SVPSA Fellowship

Amir Samandi, Executive Director at Students of Service (SOS)

SVPSA Fellowship alumnus Amir Samandi remembers the “ah-ha” moment that triggered the thought to start Students of Service (SOS). 

Teaching geography at a Title I middle school in San Antonio, Samandi was approached by a sixth grader who pointed to a picture of the Eiffel Tower and asked what it was. The student asked Samandi if he could take her to see it, not knowing it was located an ocean away. When she saw where France was located on the map, Samandi remembers she replied, “I’ll never go.” 

That interaction planted the seeds for Students of Service. 

“It was that level of resignation that  just broke my heart,” Samandi recalls. “I was like, ‘I don’t want you to think that you can’t go. You can go.’”

In the years to come, Samandi worked to make that vision a reality, establishing Students of Service as a nonprofit organization and developing a program that included travel, learning, and local community service for students in San Antonio—many of them like the sixth grader whose shoulders slumped upon learning the Eiffel Tower’s location.

Samandi says that there was no “Eiffel Tower moment” during the SVPSA’s Fellowship program. Instead, Samandi felt “that it was more of a progression, building, building, building upon each week that we were in the program” and seeing the impact of the Fellowship in many different ways over time.”

A key insight that Samandi gained through the Fellowship related to SOS’s brand. The organization was originally named Summer of Service, leading to lots of questions. Samandi remembers, “I was just getting so many people confused. And they’re like, ‘Wait, you only do service in the summer?’” 

Samandi received branding advice from experts who offered sessions at the Fellowship. He also benefited from SVPSA’s partnership with Catchafire, a platform for matching nonprofits to expert advice offered pro-bono from skilled professionals. Samandi describes Catchafire’s offerings of strategy calls, website audits, and other consulting services as “the difference maker” for SOS. Samandi says, “We were able to keep our logo, we were able to keep our website. But we changed our name to Students of Service, really putting the emphasis on the students where it belongs.”

With the new brand, Samandi was able to dream of an even bigger future for SOS. “Once we made the decision to change our name, and for me to declare to go full-time as the SOS executive director, we were able to raise about $125,000 in about 6 months”—a figure that Samandi hopes to grow in the coming months. 

Samandi says that the Fellowship allowed SOS to “level up on our know-how” around fundraising, through better donor cultivation and board engagement. 

When Samandi looks ahead, he’d like SOS to be serving more students and changing more lives. He thinks about a student who participated in an early SOS program who is now a junior in college and studying abroad in Spain. “His whole life trajectory was changed,” Samandi reflects. “It’s bigger than community service, it’s bigger than travel. It is a life changing experience in many, many cases.” In order to do that work, to dream big—and to allow the students served by SOS to dream big about their futures—Samandi relies on the connections and support that he’s built through SVPSA’s Fellowship program.

This Case Study was written by Rachel Burstein, Founder of Burstein Research, and was provided as a volunteer project through Catchafire.