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Partnership Enables Students to Bring Awareness to Youth Homelessness

Republished from Capital Magazine, Fall 2019

Seventeen students in Dr. Lois Foreman-Wernet’s Public Relations 494 immersion class were part of a client-based partnership that helped create awareness surrounding youth homelessness in Central Ohio.

The collaboration paired Capital students with Fahlgren Mortine, Ohio’s largest PR and creative communications company, and the Community Shelter Board, a leading nonprofit whose mission is to ensure everyone has a place to call home by bringing together 16 agencies across Columbus and Franklin County.

“The mission of the Convergent Media Center, our immersion classes and community partnerships is to create hands-on experiences in which our students can learn professional skills through real-world, cross-discipline experiences,” said Foreman-Wernet, professor of Communication. “It also provides opportunities to showcase the quality of our students to community organizations and businesses – like Fahlgren – throughout Central Ohio.”

Professionals from Fahlgren Mortine, including President and CEO Neil Mortine, were there to critique the students’ public relations methodology and show them how to use their professional skills to promote a social cause.

Sara Loken, director of Community Relations for Community Shelter Board, said one of her main roles was to serve as a subject-matter expert, helping students understand the prevalence of homelessness – and the public’s perception – among Central Ohio youth ages 14-24.

At any given time, there are an estimated 3,000 Central Ohio youth experiencing homelessness, with another 1,400 deemed as “vulnerable” to future homelessness.

“That number seems surprising because you don’t see a young person walking around with a backpack and think they might be homeless,” Loken said. “You think they are a student.” Through the immersion class, students were tasked with creating a campaign of awareness-building around youth homelessness.

“I was struck by how passionate the Capital students became about the problem,” Loken said. “I think it resonated with the students because we were talking about their same demographic – young people ages 14-24. But these are young people who are unaccompanied by a parent or guardian and without a safe place to call home.”

Presentation on homelessness

The immersion class brought their passion back to the Bexley campus to educate their peers on the extent of homelessness: holding grassroots collections of clothing and personal care items; hosting information tables and a panel discussion with members of CSB’s Youth Action Board; and creating print materials to promote awareness of resources and network service providers offering safe, welcoming places to get youth the support they need, whether that is a place to stay, food, clothing or help with homework.

In addition to gathering research to develop communication strategies and metrics to measure success, class projects included creating videos and other content for social media campaigns; writing poverty-simulation stories; holding a professional photography session for CSB Youth Action Board members in Capital’s Convergent Media Center studio; and creating flyers and posters for grassroots campus collection campaigns, which morphed into a toolkit for other campuses to use in their own awareness campaigns. Due to the day-to-day responsibilities and size of the CSB staff, the deliverables produced by the immersion class would not have been possible.

“The Capital students were really passionate about this cause, and they seemed moved by what they learned,” Loken said. “I was amazed by how determined they were to tell the story accurately, sensitively and respectfully.

“They quickly learned to see the youth not with the label ‘homeless,’ but as people first – young people experiencing homelessness.”

A reflection about the collaboration was written by Neil Mortine, president and CEO of Fahlgren Mortine, and published in the Columbus Dispatch on August 3, 2019.