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Delivering Meaningful Results to Community Clients

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Grey and orange cats in a box, c/o RappCats.
Author Leah Jereb worked with the non-profit organization RappCats to build its volunteer base and a lasting communication strategy. Photo c/o RappCats

American University students in Gemma Puglisi's Senior Public Relations Portfolio course gathered in the School of Communication's Media Innovation Lab on December 1 for our much anticipated final client presentations. This semester, the class had three clients from the greater DC area: Wilson Boosters, RappCats, and SOUL Programs.

As one of the few community-based learning classes at American University, Public Relations Portfolio gives students who are majoring in Public Communication (or Public Relations and Strategic Communication) the opportunity to work with real clients and develop creative and strategic communications based on each client's need.

Approved by the Center for Community Engagement and Service, community-based learning classes are certified as projects through which AU students can help members of the greater DC community while also fulfilling their degree requirements. The role of teacher and student are more loosely defined; in my experience, Professor Puglisi was a mentor and facilitator between our clients rather than a traditional instructor. As students, we could take as much or as little initiative as we wanted to, however, I think all the teams in my class found that going the extra mile for our clients resulted in greater success.

Each of the three clients brought a unique need and challenge to the teams in our class. For Wilson Boosters, students were posed with the opportunity to showcase the Boosters' 30th Anniversary. SOUL Programs, a DC program for at-risk youth in Ward 7, that provides academic and personal development opportunities in the form of sports education, wanted to raise awareness about its impactful work. My team had to help RappCats, a Virgina-based cat shelter, attract volunteers, funding, and develop a consistent communications campaign that was digitally savvy.

My team had a positive learning experience working with RappCats. RappCats is situated about an hour outside of Washington, so we dealt with the difficulties that come with what could be called a long-distance relationship. Making sure we were all on the same page from emails to execution proved to have some difficulties, as did navigating everyone's schedules to find time to strategize our next moves. In the end, I was proud that each of my team members' strengths came through in our final product, and we delivered strong, impactful results and communications materials that RappCats will use after we are no longer there to help.

All of the teams had something unique to discuss that we had accomplished for our clients: SOUL Programs' successful panel discussion and a tweet from NBC News' Andrea Mitchell promoting the event, RappCats' partnership with the ASPCA and mention on an Animal Planet blog, and Wilson Boosters' feature on WUSA-9.

The greatest payoff of the presentations and our work in this class was the gratitude of our clients as they graciously thanked us for our work and dedication this semester. RappCats, which is entirely donation-based and volunteer-run, was now fully staffed with volunteers, a huge improvement from the beginning of our project, when only the organization's president and one other individual were responsible of taking care of the shelter. Handing over a thick folder of tutorials, guidelines, and other information for RappCats to use now that our work was done, we felt like we were giving our clients the tools they needed to grow and strengthen their organization for many years to come.

I think all the members of our class felt a small pang of sadness as we bid adieu to our clients whom we worked so closely with the entire semester. While many classes at American University end with handing in a test and quickly moving on, we turned in an opportunity for each of our clients to succeed - something that will stay with us long after the semester ends.