Campus News

Foundations of Communication class reaches out beyond campus to local MS patient

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MaraRugh We’re all here for our education, but one group of students is going beyond a simple grade. The Foundations of Communications class, taught by associate professor of communication Theodore Williams, has an annual project: plan a major event for the campus. In previous years, this was the Commie Awards, an annual video competition for the Bethel community. But the Commies have been discontinued.  So what’s the Foundations project now? As it turns out, it’s reaching out to someone other than us college students. The class is currently planning a fundraising event for a local woman named Mara Rugh, who has multiple sclerosis. She is confined to a wheelchair, and, according to Williams, it’s a very “old-school” wheelchair. Rugh has also been injured, which has led to major hip problems, exacerbating the wheelchair condition. “(Rugh’s supporters) knew they were going to need to raise support to get a modern, up-to-date, electronic do-it-all wheelchair, that costs $30,000, plus $10,000 for maintenance,” said Williams. Williams was introduced to Rugh through Dr. Elizabeth McLaughlin, the chair of the communications department. McLaughlin asked Williams to shoot a video that Rugh’s supporters could use on social media to raise awareness and support for her condition. Williams was initially hesitant to do the video, but said that his mind changed when he met Rugh. “(I) went and met Mara, and from the time I met her I was like ‘I gotta definitely do this, I can’t let her down,’ seeing how bubbly she was and how excited she was,” he said. That video led to Williams’ wife creating a GoFundMe page for Rugh, which then led Williams to think over the summer about supporting Rugh as a project for the class. “The first couple years we did the Commies,” said Williams of the annual project. “Last year we did this thing called ‘Canstruction,’ which is something that’s done through Hope Ministries, and I was like, ‘You know what’d be perfect? The GoFundMe thing has kind of slowed down, let’s figure out a way to raise support for that.’ And then the wheels started turning.” From there, the project has really begun to take shape. I talked with freshman business major Samantha Shank, who is also the leader of the media team for the event, about what they’re currently doing to put the event together. “Currently, we are working on getting out the invitations, specializing invitations to donors, friends and family and people in the community, business owners. We’re looking for people to fund it. We’re currently working out everything with catering,” said Shank. According to Shank, this project has gone beyond a simple GoFundMe page and has blossomed into a full fundraising night currently scheduled for the evening of Saturday, Nov. 19. The theme of the event is to be pink flamingos, Rugh’s favorite animal. The class has been split into three groups, each covering a different aspect of the event. As mentioned earlier, Shank is the leader of the media team, but there is also a logistics team, which is responsible for all the details of the event such as decorations and catering, and a financial team, who is responsible for the budget and distributing costs. As for Williams, he described his role in the project as “the glue.” “I’ve got to make sure that everything holds together, everything gets done, but I’m trying to allow (the students) the opportunity to get those things done as much as possible, that way they get used to having a boss delegate to them and say ‘I trust you with this, and you’re going to do it,’” he said. Williams said that the responsibility is the students’, but since events like this are public events sponsored by the college, he has to make sure that it ultimately gets done.  He has to pick up any work that doesn’t get done on time. But what’s the ultimate goal, and how are they reaching that goal? Williams put it this way: “Realistically, I mean you shoot for the stars, so…out of the $40,000 (Rugh) needs to raise she’s probably at about $6,500, so say if our goal was to do the rest, we’re looking at $33,500. I’m not going to put that type of pressure on the students. And so, yes we’re trying to raise as much money as we can through selling tickets for the event, through encouraging different levels of donors for the event, but more importantly, we’re hoping through the media exposure to really just get individual donors, as many people as possible, aware of the need.” Williams said that exposure is one of the team’s main goals, since he believes that anyone who hears Rugh’s story will want to give to support her. This project is intensely personal, given Rugh’s condition, so it’s reasonable to ask: “how has this affected the participants?” “From the very first time I made this announcement, (the students) were super pumped,” said Williams. “I think more so than any event we’ve put on.” Williams said that one student gave a devotion that acknowledged that this project was going to be stressful and gave his response. “I said, ‘We’re going to put on a great event, it’s going to turn out well. And yes, it will be stressful,’”  said Williams. “I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, the next day, or the night of, when it’s finished, you’re going to have this feeling that you know you’ve done something that goes beyond that night, that goes beyond whatever grade you get in the class. That here’s a real human being…who’s going to be eternally grateful for what we did.’” Shank said that she feels that the project is helping her class learn to bond and work as a team. “Strong communication is really important for this,” she said, “And so, I think it’s just teaching us how to communicate better as a class and get things done, but also getting a personal relationship and bonding.” Shank went on to say that she really enjoys the marketing and social media aspects of the project and getting the word out about a good cause. Williams talked briefly about the effect this project has had on him as a professor. He said that when he was initially invited to shoot the video for Rugh, he was aware that he wasn’t a professional videographer, so he thought his final project was merely decent. But when Rugh saw it, she began crying. “From that day on, I’m like ‘If nothing else gets accomplished, this has been great,’” he said. Williams said that this has been a project he has consistently thought would be a one-time effort, but never turned out that way. “God keeps bringing us back, saying ‘there’s more to be done, more to be done,’” said Williams. “And so my wife (and I,) we’re really looking forward to just doing whatever we can do to help come alongside them to make sure this goal gets reached.”
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