PhilADthropy

What started out as a typical day of high school ended in tragedy after a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) killing 17 people and forever changing the lives of so many in the Parkland, Fl community. That fateful February day turned survivors of the tragedy into activists working to combat gun violence through various efforts, including the establishment of nonprofit organizations.

On February 22, students of the University of Miami School of Communication will be given the demanding, yet rewarding, opportunity to apply their knowledge and volunteer for PhilADthropy. Typically, PhilADthropy, the School of Communication’s 25-hour annual philanthropic marathon, tasks students of all majors to produce various advertising and communication pieces for South Florida nonprofit organizations. However, unlike the past nine years of PhilADthropy, the 10th anniversary is focusing solely on organizations that arose from the shooting at MSD.

“PhilADthropy’s mission is to connect our students with local nonprofits, giving them the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in their community with the skills they learn in the classroom” said Meryl Blau, assistant professor of practice and PhilADthropy founder. “With our event coinciding within one week of the anniversary of the Parkland shooting, there was a calling so deep to put our efforts into having our students help these incredibly brave students of Parkland. As my students said it best,” Blau continued, “there is no Plan B. There is only Plan A. We have to help them.”

On this anniversary year, the usual application process for PhilADthropy was shut down in order allow all efforts to go toward helping four Parkland organizations created in the last year to advance mental health education, gun reform, and community outreach. These organizations are Societal Reform Corporation, Branches of Bravery, Change the Ref, and Shine MSD.

“This year is going to be different because we are partnering with Parkland organizations and having those organizations as our clients,” said Misha Cruz, a senior advertising student. “I am hoping for a great turnout and that people will get involved on an emotional level. It’s going to be cool to see what the students come up with to keep pushing the movement forward.”

Founded by Madison Leal, Branches of Bravery’s initial goal was to plant 17 trees in front of the school to commemorate the victims. Now, the directors hope to plant a community garden and allocate funds to relief efforts for change.

MSD students Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña knew they too could help the community in the healing process through their organization, ShineMSD. After releasing the healing anthem for the community with the original song, Shine, the organization plans to distribute funds to victims and their families from their projects. They also provide mental health initiatives through the arts in Parkland such as Camp Shine, a summer camp for students to unleash their creativity and emotions.

Kai Koerber, another MSD student, felt that making a push for mental health access in schools was vital. He has strived to make mental health support more accessible through the Societal Reform Corporation where he provides funds to create a Societal Reform club in schools across the nation and offers scholarships to undergraduates. Koerber is also working to develop a mindfulness facility focused on the arts and mindful activities.

Founded in the memory of Joaquin Oliver by his parents and friend, Sam Zeif, Change the Ref’s mission is to provide tools to fight for gun safety through education, art, conversation, and activism.

PhilADthropy begins on Friday morning at 11 a.m. when approximately 150 volunteers consisting of students, faculty and a historical number of UM alumni will gather to meet representatives from the participating nonprofits in the School of Communication’s courtyard. The nonprofit representatives explain to their assigned teams their organization’s communication needs during the first hour and the student volunteers spend the next 24 hours creating communication pieces to aid in the momentum these organizations sparked.  

“I am excited and humbled by the support we have received from the UM alumni community. We have alumni coming from literally all over the country to help lead our teams on this night,” Blau said.

All through the night, students work to create fully integrated campaigns consisting, but not limited to, web designs, branding strategies, and public relations campaigns. On the following day, the nonprofit representatives return, eager to see what the students created.

In the past, students worked in smaller teams dispersed among 12-15 selected nonprofit clients. With four nonprofits this year, the student teams will be much larger and will have several alumni and faculty leaders to assist them through the night.

The significance of these Parkland nonprofits was brought to the attention of Blau and the PhilADthropy team while studying abroad at the 2018 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. During a panel discussion at the festival, the Parkland students shared their story and the ways they are working to raise awareness of gun violence. 

“I cried, along with most of the other students when the students of Parkland spoke,” Elisabeth Hofer, a senior and public relations major said. “This tragedy is also so relevant to us as students because it is not just happening in Florida. We all were so moved and knew that we needed to do something. Professor Blau took a huge initiative in having this whole project come together.”

Before the UM group’s departure from Cannes, France, there was no doubt in any of their minds that the 10th anniversary of PhilADthropy would be dedicated to helping the Parkland students.

With a committed team of driven UM students, professors, and alumni, this year’s PhilADthropy hopes to make a greater impact on the community than in years past.

“We want this to have an impact not just here on UM students, but also on a national level,” said Hofer. “This is an event students can get involved with no matter what youth activism they partake in. We want to help encourage that and the fact that they too can make a difference.”