May 9, 2006
Whitworth Students' Work with Crisis Nursery
Whitworth senior Heather O'Brien had no idea her job selling shoes would help lead her to become a board member of a local crisis nursery. While managing a shoe store in Spokane's River Park Square, O'Brien, a theatre arts-administration track major, established a rapport with customer Lucinda Kay, director of development and public relations for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. O'Brien crossed paths again with Kay when she was working on a service-learning project at the VBCN for her Whitworth publicity and public-relations class.
Based on O'Brien's professionalism, creativity, and public-relations savvy, Kay invited the Whitworth student to join the crisis nursery's fundraising board.
The VBCN is a 19-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect in the Spokane area. The VBCN serves as a refuge for at-risk children and is a supportive resource for the children's parents.
O'Brien was among 23 Whitworth students who completed a service-learning project with the VBCN as part of their spring-semester publicity and public-relations class. The initial aim of the project was to help the nursery recruit 48 certified volunteers by the end of 2006.
To accomplish this goal, the students were divided into eight groups; each group completed three projects. The projects included database development, writing, research, media relations, client relations, website development, presentation development, and marketing through radio announcements, print ads and one-sheet design.
The VBCN recently built a new facility, but has had to turn away children because the organization lacked trained volunteers. According to Kay, the Whitworth students helped move the volunteer-recruiting project forward. Due in part to the students' efforts, the organization anticipates reaching its goal by year's end.
One of O'Brien's recent projects as a volunteer on the VBCN fundraising board was raising community awareness for the VBCN during the 2006 Lilac Bloomsday Run, which took place May 7. The VBCN is the official Bloomsday charity this year and next year, which means the nursery will receive the entry donations from more than 50,000 runners who participate in the race each year.
"Working with a non-profit like VBCN touches the heart and stretches the mind to think beyond ourselves," O'Brien says.
During the service-learning project, O'Brien and her partner, senior communication-studies major Whitney Murphy, helped to improve the Bloomsday website, designed materials and pamphlets to distribute during the Bloomsday tradeshow, and designed the VBCN's tradeshow booth. O'Brien also organized volunteers to work at the booth, where they sold bottled water and recruited people to sign up to be the VBCN-certified house parents.
O'Brien is building on her knowledge of the Spokane community and area businesses to develop the public's interest in and support for the crisis center.
"The Walking Company had a booth at Bloomsday, so I have prior experience with the tradeshow and I knew what we needed to be prepared," O'Brien says. "I was helpful to the VBCN in understanding and preparing for the magnitude of this event."
The collaboration between Whitworth and the VBCN is one of Whitworth's model service-learning projects of the semester, according to Jacob Spaun, program assistant for the Center for Service-Learning. Spaun says the project allowed students to do work that correlates to their class content but also benefits the community and the VBCN.
"The work the students have done has allowed them to develop applicable skills that will be invaluable to them as they embark on future internships and careers in communications and marketing," says Rebecca Moss, adjunct communication-studies professor at Whitworth and advisor for the VBCN project. "They have been able to do the work and see the results within one semester, which is of great value to both the students and to the VBCN."
This is the first time Whitworth has collaborated with the VBCN through an organized service-learning project. According to Spaun, it is also the largest service-learning project the college has undertaken. In addition to Moss' class, four other Whitworth students are volunteering at the VBCN this year. The VBCN also works with student volunteers from Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University.
College and university partnerships are "a great way to get out of the textbook and into the real world," the VBCN's Kay says.
During the spring semester, 30 Whitworth courses incorporated service-learning projects. Throughout the 2006 academic year, 56 Whitworth courses in a variety of disciplines included a service-learning component.
Other notable Whitworth service-learning projects include Assistant Professor of Math and Computer Science Peter Tucker's software engineering class, which assisted two non-profit organizations with extensive database management and website work. Students in Associate Professor of Communication Studies Mike Ingram's advanced public speaking class delivered speeches in the community on topics the students researched for various organizations. Assistant Professor of Sociology Jennifer Holsinger's "making change" class studied approaches to solving social problems by working with and assessing local organizations involved in social production and social action.
"Service-learning is unique in that it moves students beyond the classroom and into the community, which enhances students' classroom learning and allows them to gain valuable experience and learning opportunities they won't find on campus," Spaun says. "Service-learning also allows Whitworth, through its students, to partner with community agencies that are doing great work in Spokane. Through service-learning, Whitworth can support these agencies and demonstrate its enthusiasm for the noble goals they are working toward."
For more information about the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, visit www.vanessabehan.org.
Jacob Spaun, program assistant, Center for Service-Learning, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Riddle, public information officer, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or email@example.com.