Injecting New Life into the DLSC

Posted on April 20th, 2016 by Travis Dix

DLSC_group photo.jpgThe Danville Life Saving Crew (DLSC) is used to helping others. When an emergency call comes in they are often some of the first people to arrive on the scene – checking on those who are injured and calming those who are scared. It’s their job. What they’re not used to is social media, websites and working with the news media. That’s where Averett’s Advanced Public Relations class came to the rescue. This spring, the class has been injecting new life into the communications challenges faced by the DLSC.

The partnership came about through the Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness at Averett University, which arranged the initial meeting between Dr. Susan Huckstep ’89, assistant professor of communication studies/journalism and English, and some members of the Crew. After some back and forth, they came up with the list of goals and expected outcomes. Students have met with members of DLSC every other week to make sure what they are doing not only meets with their approval, but also aligns with the original goals.

“Since we originally met with Dr. Huckstep’s class these students have done numerous things to get the Crew into the public’s eye,” said Tommy Pruett ’78, ’98, executive director of the Crew. “Not only has it begun to make a difference, their contributions can continue to produce. A number of their projects are repeatable and updatable with minimal effort.”

One of the benefits of Averett’s new service-learning initiative is that it allows faculty and students to partner with a local organization to address challenges it may be facing. This partnership is mutually beneficial — not only is the organization helped, but students gain hands-on, real-world, experience they are able to put on their résumés.

Students are taking the skills they learned in other classes and applying them to what they are doing for the Crew. They are also studying advanced PR topics through the analysis of real world case studies.

In their work with the Crew, students are helping to address three critical areas:

  1. Improving media relations,
  2. Improving the crew’s website and
  3. Increasing/improving volunteer recruitment.

“A huge aspect of what we’re doing is working on their website,” said senior Erin Gusler. “Their PayPal account doesn’t work, which means they’re not receiving the donations online they could be. We’re moving their site from one that deals with HTML code to a more user-friendly one hosted by Wix.”

Thanks to the partnership with the DLSC, students are learning firsthand about media relations, including how to pitch stories, write news releases, create public service announcements and create a marketing plan/campaign.

Students have also been working to highlight the volunteers, revitalizing the Crew’s Volunteer of the Month Program.

“We’re doing things with the volunteers so that word of mouth spreads about the Crew members and more people are interested in volunteering,” said junior Jada Little.

In addition they have handled media coverage for a groundbreaking event; worked with area restaurants about giving Crew members discounts when they are on duty; created Facebook and Twitter pages and taught volunteers and leadership how to use social media; created an email newsletter; and met with local newspaper editors to arrange for the monthly publication of call statistics.

“The fact we get to do things that have a real life impact on people – things that will help us in our careers – is great,” said Little. “I like being able to go out and do something for someone else, something that impacts them and what they do in a positive way.”

Gusler believes the class’ work with the Crew will benefit the group in a number of ways.

“They don’t like to brag about themselves,” Gusler said. “So teaching them how to work with the media and tell their story has been one of the things we’ve focused on. For example, they had a training day and we helped them get the news crews to show up.

“Since they are mainly funded by donations it’s important to educate the public using the media, their website and their new social media pages.”

Pruett and the Crew have loved working with Huckstep and her class.

“Susan has been wonderful to work with,” he said. “Both she and the students have treated our organization as though it is the best thing in the community. Furthermore, they have impressed our staff with their interest and have brought a fresh look to what we do. As an Averett grad myself, I have been most proud to be a part of this process.”

Both Gusler and Little love the service-learning aspect of the course.

“We don’t get thrown out after graduation not knowing how to write a news release, pitch a story to the media … we’re getting this real world experience,” said Little, describing the fifth service-learning class she’s taken, and her second with Huckstep. “We are 95 percent responsible for what happens with this project. What we’re learning and doing in this class is reaffirming what I want to do.”

“The hands-on experience is amazing,” Gusler added. “Being able to work with a community partner and make a difference, there’s no experience like it in a classroom.”