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PRSSA students have their “kake” and eat it too

Kupcakes for Kris eventOn a typical Wednesday night, Messiah College students are scattered across campus: in the library putting the finishing touches on a paper due the next day, getting one step closer to fulfilling their chapel credit by attending an alternate chapel, or even walking to the Union for the weekly B-Sides concert. However, this fall, there was a group of students working together on Wednesday evenings on something that extended past the walls of Messiah College.

The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) is an organization of students to educate, inspire and prepare students for an ethical and spiritual career in public relations. PRSSA does this through group projects, where they learn through experience, and guest speakers, where they learn from experience.

“PRSSA also gives our students here at Messiah a chance to test and hone their public relations skills through researching (a little!), planning, implementing and evaluating events and campaigns, often for non-profit or off-campus organizations. PRSSA brings our Messiah PR students together, strengthening friendship and providing encouragement as they spend time with each other accomplishing goals that further their field experiences,” says Nance McCown, assistant professor of communication and the faculty advisor of the organization.

Every Wednesday night at 7 p.m., this group comes together with a common purpose and the energy to complete it. This fall, that energy was centered around a woman’s battle with cancer. A nonprofit organization, Kupkakes for Kris, was formed by the Central PA PRSA chapter when one of the members, Kris Green, was struggling through an aggressive form of lung cancer. The professional parent organization of Messiah’s PRSSA chapter saw a need to help Green with medical bills, and more realistically, funeral costs. With Green’s passing in early October, the organization now hopes to provide financial support for any family battling cancer.

Debbi Tingley, one of the founders of Kupkakes for Kris came to the first PRSSA meeting of the fall semester to explain who Green was and how they were going to help her with a kick-off event at the Farmer’s Market in Hershey. Tingley concluded by presenting a daunting task: she asked this group of students to put together their own Kupkakes for Kris event to help raise funds.

Excerpts of a note from Debra S. Tingley, APR, Chair, Kupcakes for Kris, to Messiah College President Kim Phipps:

It is with great pleasure that I write to you to share the incredible response and professionalism of your students involved in the communications and public relations program, and most specifically, the local chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America…I challenged your students to get involved with the event and to also use all of their skills to create an event of their own. What happened next was amazing. Your students not only answered our challenge, they did so in a way that surpasses all expectations…. Their kindness in adopting this effort and their compassion for a woman they have never met is just beyond explanation…

I am so proud of your students and all they did in answering our challenge. They are such wonderful ambassadors for Messiah College. I join the entire public relations community in congratulating you on these fine young students and the outstanding way in which they answered this call for assistance.

The decision was unanimous; PRSSA would plan a Kupkakes for Kris fundraiser. By doing this, they were not simply working on a group project to hand in to a professor and get a good grade; they were committed to helping a real person with a real need.

“This experience was different than other projects that I may have done for school because it was very emotionally-charged. Everyone involved was really passionate about the cause, so it just made it more meaningful. It made me want to execute the event with excellence even more than I would a school project,” says the president of PRSSA, senior Lauren Schick.

In order to develop and hold an event, Schick had to form a strategic plan to get every detail nailed down. First came the brainstorming. In the midst of many different and diverse ideas, the mention of a coffeehouse became a very promising possibility. Once that idea was finalized, the group starting talking to artists and bands from the college and surrounding area and contacted West Shore Evangelical Free Church for a venue.

Once their location was confirmed, the students moved onto donations for the event. Giant, The Pennsylvania Bakery, Royers Flowers, The Blossom Shop and Weis all graciously responded by providing them with 1,000 “kupkakes,” balloons, plates, napkins, etc.

At the same time, a media team was put together and worked on developing a news release and PSA to send out to local newspapers and radio stations. By doing this, the public relations students were applying what they learned about in class every day.

The last week leading up to the coffeehouse, PRSSA members hung posters in the dorms and common buildings and utilized social media by putting Facebook status updates informing their friends of the upcoming event.

Finally, Nov. 12 arrived. As the “kupkakes” were being placed on decorative stands, The Ryan Payne band was setting up onstage. As the night went on, the attendance picked up and people enjoyed the talents of the performers. One of the special guests of the night was Mike Williams, Kris’s husband.

“Mike Williams’ appearance at our event simply made all our work feel more worthwhile.  His incredible gratitude made me thankful for my ability to work on this project.  Seeing his smiles and the encouragement he gained from our efforts refreshed and rejuvenated me, making me want to continue this work for families with cancer,” says junior Elisabeth Warren, vice president of PRSSA.

Overall, the Messiah PRSSA chapter raised around $1200 to support future families struggling with the physical and financial battles of cancer. This monetary amount was a success, but the real world experience this group of students got was priceless. They were able to apply the fundamental skills they are learning in class while helping someone in need at the same time.

“This experience increased my knowledge of event planning – specifically managing logistics and soliciting donations. I learned a lot about managing volunteers and thinking through every aspect of the event, from food to entertainment to advertising and donations. I still have a lot to learn, but it was such a rich experience and I feel blessed to be a part of it,” says Schick.

Story by Emily Mohler`13. Photos by Katlin Nolt `11.

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