When Lisa Dixon-Wells agreed to allow a Continuing Education public relations class of 13 adult learners to use the non-profit anti-bullying organization she’d founded as the focus of a class project, she wasn’t sure what to expect. But it wasn’t long before she realized her small organization, Dare to Care, was going to benefit in a big way from the experience.
“Like most charities, Dare to Care is a lean organization,” says Dixon-Wells, BPE’84, BEd’87, MEd’97. “As executive director, I have to wear most of the hats — program design, program delivery, fundraising, PR, marketing, and more — but I could never have done on my own what these students did for me. Having them focus on my organization, brainstorm, and put their ideas into workable plans of action has been invaluable.”
Organization was invited to be a class client
Dare to Care was invited to be a class client by Carey Boyarski, the instructor of the Continuing Education course, Strategic Planning for Public Relations. The two had met the year before, and Boyarski had taken a keen interest in the organization’s work.
“Dare to Care’s mission, vision and values are magnetic,” says Boyarski. “It would be hard to have exposure to the work they do and not become personally invested in their success. I felt that being a class client could be a great opportunity for them.”
The students who take the Strategic Planning for Public Relations course are both new and experienced PR practitioners looking for development or credentials, or individuals hoping to make a career change from related disciplines such as journalism.
'They were genuinely interested in helping'
Dixon-Wells began to recognize the value for her organization almost immediately.
“In my first session with the students in early February, I was moved by their commitment to help. They were genuinely interested in helping Dare to Care succeed, and in return, I was genuinely motivated to help them succeed ” she says.
“That first session was my opportunity to present the history and mission of Dare to Care, as well as the challenges and opportunities for growth,” says Dixon-Wells. “By the next session, just a few weeks later, the student groups had done a tremendous amount of research on every aspect of bully prevention, and had posed questions to help them formulate their plans.
“In their final presentations at the end of March, all four of the student groups provided clear and practical suggestions to decrease the organization’s challenges and increase opportunities for growth. They came up with unique ideas that I find very exciting and am looking forward to bringing to life.
Working with UCalgary students 'great for us'
“But, I think my greatest learning from this experience is that small organizations like mine can benefit greatly by working with keen and motivated U of C students,” says Dixon-Wells. “It’s been great for us.”
Many of the course’s past clients would likely agree, says Boyarski. She has been teaching the Continuing Education course for six years, and in that time, some of the organizations that have participated as course clients have included Axia Fibrenet, Santé Medical, HIV Community Link, Silvera for Seniors, Fortis Alberta, PACE Kids and the Calgary Board of Education. All of the organizations have valued the experience.