It is hard to believe our last Public Relations Portfolio class is over, and I must say I never expected it to end the way it did.
The Public Relations (PR) Portfolio class in the School of Communication is a requirement for all strategic PR majors.
My section was also designated as a community-based learning class. This gave me the opportunity to work hands-on with a client and become involved in community engagement throughout the semester. My professor, Gemma Puglisi, works with many nonprofits and organizations each semester. These organizations may be local or global and need help with marketing, branding, events, media, visibility, or overall PR work.
In the beginning of the semester, she told my class that we were different from her past PR Portfolio classes. Here’s why:
This class, she said, was dedicated to one of her former students, Steve Cammarota, who died of a rare autoimmune disease in August 2019. Steve had taken Professor Puglisi’s portfolio class in 2018, when the client was Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless youth.
Professor Puglisi had reached out to Steve and Liz Cammarota, Steve's parents, to see if there was something we could do to remember their son and his great work at AU. During his time at AU, Steve was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and supported the Children's Miracle Network by acting as the chair for AU’s EagleTHON in 2018. The Cammarotas were excited to have us work on projects and events to remember their son.
Our very first class was special because that was the day we meet Steve's parents and sister, Sarah. I knew then that anything we did to encourage others to do better, which was something that Steve strived to do his entire life, would be appreciated by the family.
After many discussions and brainstorming sessions, our class was divided into three teams: Community-Based Volunteering, Fundraising and Legacy, and Social Media and Promotion. After speaking with the family during that first class, we decided to brand our work and class as the "Do Better" campaign.
In my group, Community-Based Volunteering, one of the big events we were planning to host was an American Red Cross blood drive. This was on the Cammarota’s wish list, as Steve had relied on blood transfusions. We had also been planning a volunteer fair. This event would allow us to bring various nonprofit organizations from the DMV area to campus to share volunteer opportunities with the student body.
The Fundraising and Legacy team focused on various events, including a trivia night, a live music night at The Bridge, and a few bake sale fundraisers. They also recommended that a scholarship be named in Steve’s honor at the end of the year for an outstanding senior.
The Social Media and Promotion team created the “Do Better” logo and class blog, as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. As a public relations and cinema studies double major, Steve was a huge cinema buff. Knowing this, the social media team worked with the Cammarota family to create an Instagram campaign which showcased the films that Steve enjoyed. The team also created stickers to hand out at the events as well as graphics to promote the various events we had scheduled.
When COVID-19 forced classes to move online, we had to completely change direction. With six weeks left in the semester, we had to cancel all our great events, including the blood drive, trivia night, and live music night.
In place of the volunteer fair, my team created a resource guide that was distributed to organizations and other community-based learning classes to showcase different volunteer opportunities. Similarly, the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), an on-campus organization, agreed to host a drive next year at AU. The Fundraising and Legacy team worked closely with the Social Media team to create a virtual trivia night through Kahoot and a live music night through Instagram Live.
At the end of the semester, we raised $2,000 through the events we held, which we donated to the ICU Unit C42 at Georgetown University Hospital. This unit took care of Steve during his last days and is currently working feverishly to help others during this tough time.
On the last day of class, when we presented our final work to the Cammarotas, we were moved by the family’s reaction. Despite the many challenges that we faced with making our events virtual, we knew how much our work meant to his family.
After the presentation, the Cammarota family wrote, “Our family experienced a series of emotions while listening to the presentation of the #DoBetter Campaign and its efforts to promote Steve's legacy of helping others. We were impressed, surprised and saddened just to name a few.”
The family was also surprised to learn that the campaign was working with Laurel Strategies, Steve's employer, to create a fellowship and student achievement award in his name. They wrote, “Obviously this news was bittersweet to us as we love to see Steve's legacy of helping others and service to the community be recognized, but we are heartbroken by the loss of our son and brother.”
Our hope to have a scholarship named after Steve is looking very promising, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that the first recipient will be named in the Spring of 2021.
Overall, working with the Cammarota family to encourage others to “Do Better” in memory of Steve was an extremely rewarding experience. We hope that the campaign has a lasting impact on the AU community and everyone who comes in contact with it.