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Prize-winning public relations campaign generates lasting impact

Senior public relations majors compete each year to win the Ebeling PRize, honoring a group with an impactful capstone project. The accolade was recently awarded to a group of students who created a campaign to educate the public about homelessness and connect organizations with well-intentioned people.

Katie Magree, Grace Darling and Sophia Vojta are all now graduated public relations and advertising majors that developed the “How Can I Help My Neighbor?” campaign and website with the mission of bringing attention to the homeless population in Peoria.

“I saw the increase of tent cities popping up, especially during COVID,” Magree said. “It really softened my heart and I saw that it doesn’t take much to become homeless.”

After pondering many different ideas, the students found that there was no one place that had all of Peoria’s organizations and resources in one spot. There was no clear way for the public to understand homelessness.

“We found that [for] a lot of people, while they had really good intentions of donating directly to unsheltered people, they were actually doing a little more harm than good,” Magree said. “People would donate food — for example, a lasagna — but that needs to be refrigerated and it would end up attracting pests.”

The students decided to develop a website that provides information on donations and highlights many of Peoria’s nonprofit organizations that help homeless individuals.

“Our website gives dos or don’ts when donating as well as places to donate and what donated items should be,” Magree said. “Although we couldn’t see if someone went a step further to donate, we could see individuals were looking at our website and clicking on links to view other nonprofits.”

The students partnered with JOLT Harm Reduction and Crafted DIY to bring their project to life. Chris Schaffner, the program director at JOLT, said in an email interview that the exposure as a result of the campaign has been great.

“Having a platform to provide accurate information to the public is always beneficial,” Schaffner said. “We’ve also benefited from the partnership between JOLT and Crafted DIY.”

Magree, Darling and Vojta hosted an educational and fundraising event on April 22 at Crafted DIY to raise money for JOLT and generate more awareness.

“The amount of personal feedback I received from the press coverage and the streaming event was overwhelmingly positive,” Schaffner said. “I’m so proud of the students and their project … their understanding and willingness to understand the complexities of homelessness, substance use and mental health issues was impressive.”

The team had a lot of success with the lasting impact portion of their project.

“We were able to get a lot of media attention, and that was really nice and it increased our views on our website,” Magree said. “Our social media posts may not last forever, [and] the local media attention is not going to last forever, but it will last forever on the internet.”

The Continuum of Care is a program designed to help end homelessness and offer resources, information and toolkits on their website, and it has incorporated the “How Can I Help My Neighbor?” website.

“We hope the information can continue to be updated with minimal upkeep as most of the info is pretty straight forward,” Darling said.

The Ebeling PRize helped validate and acknowledge the group’s campaign.

“I am more happy with the outcome of our website rather than actually winning because I know our website will live forever whether we win the prize or not, so I was more worried about that lasting impact,” Magree said. “This award recognizes my team’s hard work and dedication. To be recognized feels really good.”

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