Seton Hill Public Relations Class Learns Through Service
Jen Jones wanted the students in her Public Relations Ethics, Responsibility and Law class at Seton Hill University to learn from experience rather than just her lectures.
She wanted them to see how a nonprofit, grassroots organization works at the ground level and also learn how important it is to give back.
So Jones, an assistant professor of communications at Seton Hill, invited Rich Reese, president and co-founder of Maranatha Outreach speak to her class earlier this fall. And Reese invited the class to come and volunteer with Maranatha Outreach to help the volunteers at the small, ecumenical nonprofit serve food to the homeless in Pittsburgh.
The students have been spending Friday nights with Reese and his small group of volunteers cooking food at a church in Bloomfield and then distributing the hot meals to any and all who come looking for sustenance and a friendly face at the corner of The Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix Street in downtown Pittsburgh on Friday nights.
In addition to volunteering with the nonprofit, the class will also be looking at ways to improve Maranatha Outreach’s public relations, social media and fundraising initiatives.
“I want this experience to show them how important it is to be in the trenches – you need to be involved in what your organization is doing,” said Jones, whose class focuses on corporate communications, political communications and media outreach for nonprofits. “I also want to try to bridge the separation between people and to get these students out of their comfort zones. They are learning the real stories of people in our region living in homelessness and poverty and that we must have compassion for our neighbors.”
“Serving learning opportunities such as the one Dr. Jones’ class is engaged in are the hallmark of a Seton Hill education,” said Mary C. Finger, Ed.D. Seton Hill president. “Our mission as a Catholic, liberal arts institution includes service to others and especially reaching out to those in poverty or who are oppressed. By giving of themselves, our students become open to learning about people who come from circumstances vastly different from their own.”
Reese, who lives in Derry Township, Westmoreland County, co-founded Maranatha Outreach in 2006 to help fill a need for providing hot meals to Pittsburgh’s homeless. Maranatha Outreach is one of several small, nonprofits who serve meals on different nights each week.
Reese said the meals are all hot, balanced dishes and are served regardless of the weather.
“We are taught to see Christ in the faces of the homeless and the poor,” Reese said. “We cook as if Christ is going to be in the line today. We don’t want to feed him bologna sandwiches.”
The volunteers don’t just serve food, but get to know the people who come week after week.
“I think a lot of people hunger for love and friendship more than they hunger for food,” Reese said.
Senior communications student Bayley Paharik, 22, of Greensburg, said the volunteer experience with Maranatha Outreach changed her outlook.
“I was serving food to people who are often treated horribly, yet most seemed to really want to be loved and treated with dignity,” she said. “It was truly a humbling experience and made me grateful for all that I have.”
Paharik added, “I came away feeling that not only was I doing something good for others, but I felt welcomed by those I was helping. I served them, but the greater gift was them serving me. I was able to see first hand how everyone has the same needs: love, food, and shelter and sometimes we take them for granted. I strongly believe that the more you give to others, the more you are blessed by their gifts in return. Everyone has gifts even though they are not always recognized.”
The students will again be volunteering with Maranatha Outreach on Friday, October 17. The meal is served beginning at 7 p.m. at the intersection of the Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix Street.