Classroom partnership leads to new relationship with Live Oak Communications

The student-run strategic communications agency plans to onboard a new client, Retired Senior Volunteer Program, this fall following a successful partnership with Lecturer Hal Vincent’s class last spring.

While the COVID-19 pandemic began to severely impact the country and North Carolina this spring, the needs of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a national initiative operating locally under the auspices of the Burlington Housing Authority, did not wane. But the Alamance County organization found much-needed support and fresh ideas from a fellow local group –  Hal Vincent’s Strategic Campaigns class.

With Patricia Gilliam, RSVP clerical assistant, looking on, Tim Jeffers (center), RSVP project director, speaks with members of Hal Vincent’s Strategic Campaigns class during the spring semester.

This was the fourth time one of Vincent’s classes – in conjunction with Elon’s Kernodle Center Service Learning program – has partnered with a local organization to offer an enhanced classroom experience that promotes community and civic engagement.

According to Vincent, the Elon-RSVP partnership is a “classic example” of how the university intuitionally supports the pairing of academic programs with organizations that address communities’ needs. The students were tasked with learning the foundations of strategic campaign planning by doing it for a real organization that builds community. In this case, students sought to engage and excite area senior citizens to become active volunteers in RSVP.

“Senior citizens are often an overlooked or hyper-stereotyped population that does not always recognize the complexity of their life stages, values and experiences,” said Vincent, a lecturer in the Strategic Communications Department. “We were proud to use our talents and classwork to support the Housing Authority’s mission – providing affordable housing for families, elderly, disabled and handicapped individuals.”

As part of their coursework, students formed three teams to simulate the roles associated with strategic communications campaign building: account management and strategy research; creative concept and design; and media message delivery planning.

During a May online presentation, members of the Strategic Campaigns class outline strategies for recruiting individuals to become RSVP volunteers.

Each team then offered a comprehensive multi-platform strategic campaign recommendation to achieve the marketing objective of increased participation by seniors to become volunteers and improve the reputation and affinity of RSVP among county stakeholders. The RSVP program is particularly active in placing seniors in Title IX schools as lunch buddies and reading and math coaches, as well as many other volunteer organizations and roles throughout the county.

The class outcomes were such a success that RSVP organizational leaders sought to extend their relationship by officially joining the client roster of Live Oak Communications, the university’s student-run strategic communications agency.

“While we had a monumental shift to remote and online learning, our outcome was still 100% real support for a valuable community organization,” Vincent said. “It was tough for everyone, but these students showed you can still have a rich engaged, service-learning experience that builds and supports communities even when scattered around the world. One team in particular, I think, nailed the message strategy speaking to senior citizens about why they should carve out time to volunteer through RSVP. The message is not, “you are a great volunteer despite your age, rather, you are the best volunteer because of your age.”

Tim Jeffers, RSVP project director, agreed in a communications with Vincent. “I was very impressed with the thought, detailed explanations and clarity of the information in which the students presented,” Jeffers said. “The spreadsheets, flow charts, graphs and research showed that they enjoyed being in your class and will make some corporation happy having them as future employees.”

Following students’ online presentations, Tammy Cobb, associate director of the Kernodle Center for Civic Life, commended the students for their ability to articulate their learning, meet the course’s goals, and exceed their partner organization’s expectations. Likewise, RSVP leaders spoke about how much they learned in the process. “This is an example of an ideal partnership, reciprocal and mutually beneficial to all,” Cobb said.

The university’s Academic Service Learning designation requires faculty training and adherence to tested pedagogies that not only reflect on key learning concepts, but also allow real-world classroom application in an environment where student skills benefit organizations and people in the community.

“It is always exciting and fulfilling as a teacher to see students succeed by impressing professionals who are much like the folks who will be hiring them one day for their career launch,” Vincent said. “And it’s especially rewarding to see a community partner want to deepen their relationship with Elon and students through Live Oak Communications.”

About Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)

The Retired Senior Volunteer Program, a division of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Senior Corps, is sponsored locally by Burlington Housing Authority, in partnership with local schools, faith-based and non-profit organizations. RSVP, now nearly 500,000 strong, is the nation’s largest volunteer network for persons 55 and older. For more information, call 336-226-0890.