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SOJ students give back to community with United Way event featuring NFL athletes

West Virginia University students get a lot of support from the greater Morgantown community, and one group has found a way to give back.

The WVU Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, under the guidance of Dr. Elizabeth Oppe, has partnered with the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties to host the three-part event “Once a Mountaineer, Always a Mountaineer.”

The student group reached out to former Mountaineer football players who are currently or were once NFL athletes. The players will be returning to their home among the hills for the event on March 1 to engage with the community, raise money for the United Way and promote healthy lifestyle choices among children.

Several players will be returning for the event, including Quincy Wilson, Keith Tandy, Major Harris and the recent Super Bowl champion Bruce Irvin.

The event will be broken down into three parts. In the morning the Student Recreation Center will host the athletes for a Day of Play, during which they will spend time with local at-risk youths to encourage physical activity and health. Next, they will visit Ruby Memorial Hospital with the Pediatric Entertainment Program, started by WVU student Lindsey Fitzwater, brightening the spirits of the children there. To close the day, the players will be honored at a formal dinner in the evening at The Erickson Alumni Center.

Full of fun, smiles and encouragement, Mountaineers of all ages will be bringing much needed positivity to the community. The Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Shack Neighborhood House will all have children participating in the event.

Collen Lewis and Lacie Geary, both juniors majoring in public relations in the P.I. Reed School of Journalism, have taken charge of the planning efforts. With the help of about 20 other PRSSA members, they’ve put together the event entirely, said Oppe, from inception to completion: invitations, guest lists, venues, corporate sponsors, logo designs, promotion and an unfathomable amount of time.

“I’ve most enjoyed getting to work with all the programs involved,” Lewis said. “I may not have had the most money growing up, but I know these kids are a lot worse off than me, and I want to help them a lot.”

Lewis and his fellow PRSSA members have used this opportunity to not only help the community, but also to enhance their learning.

“It’s been a lifetime of experiences, literally,” Geary said. “This event has covered more than 20 public relations classes could have.”

The students were able to get hands-on experience with all aspects of event planning, writing press releases, crisis handling, business-to-business communication and making relationships.

For Lewis, the relationships were the most important part.

“There was no time for personal relationships, but the relationships I made with this event are probably stronger than the friendships I’ve made in the past,” he said.

Lewis also learned that the informal personal relationships between people are the key to success in the public relations field. He was able to meet countless people through this process, and gained the ability to comfortably strike up a conversation with anybody.

These relationships were also helpful in engaging the former Mountaineers, with the easiest way to get them involved being a third-party contact. The students were told that it was likely the players wouldn’t respond to the invitations, sent out in November, until January. And that’s exactly how it’s happened. By the time the invitations went through all the NFL’s hoops, some of the players didn’t actually receive them until Feb. 4.

For an event that’s to take place March 1, things like that can pose a problem.
But instances like that are just one more way students got to learn during the process.

Lewis and Geary are already planning to take what they’ve gained from this experience and share it with other universities’ PRSSA members at next year’s national conference.

“It’s opened my eyes to how much I can do,” said Geary, excited about prospects for the future. “I had no experience in event planning before, but I hope to be able to plan philanthropic events in the future, so this was right up my alley.”

Read the official release on WVU Today.