St. JAMES HAVEN MEN'S SHELTER
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH:
St James Haven for men on North Main Street in Meadville, PA
When people hear the word "shelter" they often think of the most disenfranchised members of society -- women, children, or the mentally ill. The fact that soaring unemployment rates in small towns across America means that men are increasingly becoming homeless -- often losing their family, friends, and other support systems, and often turning to substance abuse to ease the loneliness and pain.
The stigma attached to men needing help is huge. Men are supposed to be providers and sources of strength, according to cultural norms. Therefore, how do you change the way a community regards men's shelters and get people to engage with the underlying issues that have brought men to this place?
St.James Haven is unknown to most residents of Meadville, PA, the town in which it is located, and few students at Allegheny College know it's just down the road from them. The task of the COMRT 276 (Fall 2018) Integrated Marketing & Communication course was to help St. James raise its visibility and profile in the community, as well as bring in much needed funds and supplies to support its endeavors.
From spending time with the residents at St James to understand the structural issues underlying the homelessness the men are experiencing, to planning and executing multiple educational and fundraising efforts, students learned to partner with student organizations and offices on campus, as well as with community partners. They even found a willing partner in Parkhurst Dining, the college's food supplier. In collaborating with this project, Parkhurst donated a van-load of food and supplies, and it continues to help St. James generously, at the end of each semester.
The big takeaways:
1. To create the desired impact, you must be organized and set up a timeline for coordinating campaign, PR, and fundraising efforts
2. The more partners you invite to join the campaign, the larger the ripple effect of creating greater public awareness and involvement
LEARNING FROM FAILURE:
EARL J.'s RESTAURANT (MEADVILLE, PA)
Earl J.'s was a family-run Italian food restaurant that ran on sheer passion. The owners had never managed a restaurant before, and were new to the town, so they lacked the helpful networks that could have helped foot traffic. The chef made everything from scratch so whether you ordered the pizzas, buffalo wings, subways, or salads, the end result was a palate pleaser. The drawbacks: the chef also managed counter orders, and the eatery was short-staffed so he had to run deliveries too. Subsequently, a fairly long wait between placing the order and getting the food was hurting the business.
To add to their woes, Earl J.'s was right across from the golden arches that doled out fast food and was a cheaper option. In a small town these things matter.
Despite the best efforts of the COMRT 276 (Fall 2018) class to resuscitate the business, Earl J's shut down.
Students invested substantial hours designing and conducting research surveys, drawing up marketing and re-branding proposals, discussing options with the owners, setting measurable outcomes, and designing a website for the restaurant. They even came up with a family-friendly logo and menu that would reflect the ethos of a family-owned business (the store was named after the owners' son) and the Italian character of the place.
The owners' original dream got in the way of making changes. Streamlining the menu or prepping some items in advance were not options, so there was no way to ease the workload at the front of the restaurant. Hiring remained a challenge with cash flow issues, and re-branding recommendations were taken up piece-meal or shelved.
The owners were good people, and we ate our way through this assignment thanks to their largesse. But the class also learned the challenges of working with a family business where too many decision makers are involved. In the end, the project was an invaluable real-world demonstration of how critical client-agency synergy is in determining outcomes.