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Column: It’s not all cigarettes and circuses

Photo via Haley Johnson.

Public relations is undoubtedly regarded as one of the most questionable jobs. Its murky reputation of selling Lucky Strike cancer sticks to the women’s rights movements and drawing in crowds to the abused elephant circus really makes you question the people who choose this path.

Well this summer, I chose this path.

There were no women with raspy coughs or dying animals. I was making a noble contribution to humanity. The world of non-profit marketing and public relations completely changed my understanding of the industry.

I spent four months interning with the Center for Prevention of Abuse, a company which started as a rape-crisis hotline in 1975 and bloomed into a safe-house for victims with five different departments.

I’ll be honest, my day to day was spent folding shirts and calling to make sure whatever company was bringing enough chairs for whatever fundraiser … but it wasn’t about the “what” that made me appreciate it all as much as the “why.”

Even as I was taking down giant inflatable ducks for our fundraising event, I knew my seemingly-ridiculous efforts were contributing towards the good of humanity, even if indirectly.

And this is really a feeling you don’t get as the spokesperson for a toothpaste company.

About a month ago, I was leaving my shift when a woman and at least five kids came through the doors. Her eyes were swollen as she held her youngest son on her lap. I could only assume it was a case of domestic violence.

Two different counselors came in – one to take care of the kids and the other to take care of the woman. I saw her expression turn to relief when the little ones left the room; she finally had the chance to be vulnerable instead of strong, to be a victim and tell her story.

Cases like this happened daily. Sometimes it was a young man walking through the door or a girl younger than me. The faces of abuse span all ages, genders and races, but the story always ends the same way, through the doors of our center.

Even though I’m not a counselor or case worker, I was able to use my skills — writing, photography, design — to make sure people were aware of the stories that don’t need to be twisted.

Last week’s large fundraising event signified the end of my internship with the center. More than anything, I took away a new appreciation for public relations.

If you do it right, you can do much more than write snazzy press releases and cover up your CEO’s affair. If you do it right, you can truly be an advocate for good.

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