Kate Koenig, Editor-in-Chief
This Sunday, November 4 at the Elks Lodge on Chestnut St., a group of SUNY Oneonta students held an event for the development of the relationship between the local community and college students. The “2012 Autumn Connection” was organized by the students in COMM 207, or Communication Public Relations, taught by Prof. Dawn Sohns.
For her public relations class, Sohns makes it a requirement of her students to organize an event of their choosing, but the organization of the Autumn Connection was a unique effort. Rather than deciding to work on different events, the students in the two sections of the class decided to make it a group effort, combining the help from everyone enrolled for the course. After some deliberation, they decided that the best thing to do would be to organize an event downtown, going into the community so best to draw local interest.
Samantha Smith, a junior enrolled in Public Relations and participant in the organization of Autumn Connection, described their motivation for the event. “It’s kind of a hot issue right now that the community members don’t really like us college students [for our drunk and disorderly behavior] on the way to the bars, and loudness and littering… We decided to hold this to improve relations with them.”
Set up towards the entrance was a table where students were invited to sign a pledge mounted on poster-board stating, “I pledge to respect the community members, my neighbors and their property. To use lower voices during the night, and to not scream out profanities [sic]. I know that I am part of a greater community and I pledge to do my best to abide by the laws and to respect those around me.”
Several activities were set up for attendees to take part in: face-painting, crafts for children as well as card-making for patients of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Charitable donations were being collected; a 50/50 raffle was held for donations to St. Jude’s, and there was a food drive set up for the local food pantry of St. James Episcopal Church.
The SUNY Oneonta club Japanese Society for All was also present, making crafts with children with a table “Names in Different Languages!” where they spelt children’s names with Japanese characters.
In the process of getting the word out, students contacted mayor Dick Miller, who directed them to city council member Dave Rissberger, representative of the Third Ward. Rissberger assisted the students in emailing the invitation flyer to his constituents. “I think they did a fantastic job. …This is something that really needs to be done every year,” said Rissberger.
Additionally, Sohns and a few students went door-to-door a week in advance handing out invitations to local residents. As a part of Public Relations curriculum, the students also handed out pre- and post-event surveys to collect the public’s feelings before and reactions after the event.
Food was donated by the local businesses Domino’s Pizzeria and Dunkin’ Donuts and contributed to by the students. Gift certificates donated by BJ’s Wholesale Club, Price Chopper and Easy Home rental company were raffled off; entries in the raffle were given in exchange for completion of a post-event reaction survey. The use of the Elks Lodge was also made free for the event by the Oneonta chapter of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks.
The ratio of students to local residents was high, but many locals were present with their families. Local mother Daphne Sorensen said of the event, “[It was a] great initiative. Congratulations to the forward outreach. It is a really great way to showcase the college community.”
The Vice President of the Finance Administration at SUNY Oneonta, Todd Foreman, was also present, with family from Morris County, New Jersey who are staying with his family due to a power outage from the recent Hurricane Sandy. He also spoke well of the event: “It’s amazing… Too often you hear of the negative interactions between the students and [the local community], but really, overall there’s more good going on than bad… …this is a good example of a positive interaction.”
Overall, the mood was positive and those that attended were conversing and actively taking part in the activities offered and the charitable donations. The students responsible for the organization of the event seemed excited by the turnout. In reaction to the turnout, Sohns stated, “We knew it was going to be hard; it’s November, it’s a busy weekend, the weather sometimes plays a role. But overall, I’m happy.”