Students help local nonprofits use social media

April 22, 2011

The excitement level rivaled that of a Hollywood premiere April 21 as representatives of 17 local nonprofit organizations debuted the promotional videos they produced under the tutelage of five McDaniel students – three of them the recipients of McDaniel’s Griswold-Zepp Award for Volunteerism.

Junior English majors Megan Franey, Sara Krome and Megan Robinson, who has a second major in Spanish, used the $2,800 award to teach a series of seven social-media workshops and purchase video recorders and accessories for their students, age 21 to 70, from community organizations. Seniors Danielle Sirk and Betsy Warner joined the trio as media coaches.

The students designed their project to help nonprofits by teaching them how to harness the power of social networking technologies to better communicate with the public, helping them develop a basic understanding of video editing and design, and showing them how to produce a four-minute promotional video for their organizations.

Carroll County Food Sunday Board directors Frank Baylor and Forest Howell were amazed at the amount of information the students presented -- and that they were able to teach in a way even social-media novices could understand and use.

"This opens up whole new avenues for us to get information about the food bank out there," says Howell, explaining that Facebook and YouTube will enable them to reach the younger generation and make them aware of Food Sunday. Last year, Carroll County Food Sunday distributed almost a half-million pounds of food to families in need, Baylor says.

The Historical Society of Carroll County executive director Timmi Pierce brought along volunteer Linda Conroy so that both would develop social-media skills. They were astonished by the detail -- and that now they have a notebook full of handouts to sustain what they learned.

"I learned new things about Twitter and how to make movies the right way," says Conroy, who came to the program with some skills and knowledge in social media.

For the McDaniel students – members of the tech-savvy Millennial generation – navigating and using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media is almost instinctual.

Still, they soon discovered that they would learn as much as they taught.

“It was very educational,” says Robinson, adding that they came to better understand the communication and marketing needs of nonprofits and how social networking can help advance these organizations.

“I learned about working with groups,” says Franey, explaining that she and the other student volunteers liked participating in a project that benefits the community.

While Krome’s experience included learning “how to present and format the materials in a teachable way.

“We had to make sure it was self-sustaining,” she says. “Everything that we gave them – the tutorials and handouts – they’ll be able to keep using.”

Julia Jasken, McDaniel English professor and the students’ advisor, views community outreach as a key part of a liberal arts education and sees a difference in her students’ work when they are engaged with real audiences as they are in the Writing for Non-Profit Organizations class that sends students into the field to work for local non-profits.

“I could not have imagined the sessions turning out better,” Jasken says of the student-designed workshops. “The students aren’t getting credit. They aren’t being paid. They were committed to this project and they did it.”

The organizations that participated in the workshop are Access Carroll (video), Appalachian Poverty Project, Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, Caring Carroll (video), Carroll County Food Sunday (video), Carroll County Youth Services Bureau, Community Media Center, Family and Children's Service of Central Maryland, First Global Visions, Historical Society of Carroll County (video), Junction (video 1, video 2), The Literacy Council of Carroll County (video), North Carroll Community School, Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, Target Community and Educational Services, Voices for Children, and Westminster Fallfest.

The Griswold-Zepp Award was established to honor Earl Griswold and Ira Zepp, long-time faculty advisors for SOS/Hinge, a community service and volunteerism group. The selection process focuses on the project that most strongly exemplifies the true spirit of volunteerism and community service.