Students present their public relations proposal to representatives from Hannah’s House and Bridge of Hope.

Sophomore Arielle Byl says her intro to public relations class at Bethel College was more than what she expected.

“It was a memorable experience,” says the communication major.

That’s because the class did more than just reading a text book and studying theories. Associate Professor of Communication Elizabeth McLaughlin, Ph.D., brought in a real-life project for the students to practice hands-on experience. Byl and her classmates used the concepts they learned in the first part of their class to help a local, nonprofit organization called Bridge of Hope during the second part of the class. By the end of the semester students had created a public relations strategy that included recommendations for the organization.

“For most of us, when we learned that the project would be helping someone, it became a great incentive,” says Byl. “When you can put a face to your project, it inspires you to want to make it the best it can be.”

Bridge of Hope is an organization that helps single mothers avoid homelessness through the partnership of church groups and a case work system to bring the support necessary to encourage independence. About a year ago, the organization merged with Hannah’s House, another local nonprofit that provides a home for pregnant women. According to a Bridge of Hope brochure, 45 percent of babies born in St. Joseph County are born to single women. This program successfully prevents and ends homelessness for single mothers with an 80 percent success rate.

Students were charged with coming up with a strategy to increase the involvement of area churches in the vision of mentoring single mothers who are accepted into the Bridge of Hope program.

Currently, there are six women in the program. Mike Druley, who is vice president of the board of Hannah’s House, says he hoping to increase that to eight by the end of the year and hopefully more in the future. He says the program can last 12 to 18 months, but it depends on the woman’s strength and her ability to become independent.

McLaughlin says the partnership is win-win for both organizations.

“In the end, students get experience in walking through the process,” says McLaughlin. “And Bridge of Hope will hopefully have a proposal that has some ideas that they can implement.”

Once the students finished their presentation, Druley and Executive Director of Hannah’s House Bill Killilea addressed the students with praise.

“I’m impressed. I think you should all get an ‘A,’” says Druley.

Both men said they liked the students’ ideas to utilize social media, revamp a brochure, as well as the idea of a speakers’ bureau, just to name a few.

Byl said she and some of her classmates hope to stay involved in some way with both organizations, even though class is over.

“Now that we are exposed to this reality,” says Byl. “We’re responsible to do something about it.”