Author: Renee Sedlacek (Page 2 of 3)

Building research skills and solving problems

Being able to effectively use research to inform planning is a critical piece of becoming a well-rounded communications leader. This is exactly what our cohort of five students in Drake’s Master of Communication Leadership (MCL) program learned by working with a local nonprofit to propose, conduct, analyze, and present research to help the organization solve its communication challenges.

In the Applied Communication Theory and Research class, and under the guidance of Matthew Thornton, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, the five students in our cohort worked with the YMCA Supportive Housing organization in Des Moines. This permanent, supportive housing campus offers 140 efficiency units to single adults who meet income and lifestyle criteria, filling a unique, much-needed niche in the affordable housing continuum. While the organization was at capacity and serving its residents well, it was lacking the public awareness and funding needed to propel its mission and fuel future expansion.

After digging in, our team recommended three types of research: getting a lay of the land through one-on-one interviews with organization employees and board members; circulating a written survey of residents; and creating an online “snowball” survey for potential donors and partners—business and nonprofit leaders in the region. Executing these plans the way we wanted to depended on securing some funds, provided by Community Engaged Learning via a service-learning mini-grant. These additional resources allowed us to offer a survey incentive to YMCA Supportive Housing residents: bus tokens for all who completed the survey, with a drawing among those who completed it for Walgreen’s gift cards. They also allowed us to print written surveys and print/bind the completed, 100+ page survey report to present to and share with the client.

Ultimately, we were able to hone in on some areas where enhanced communication and new partnerships could really move the needle for YMCA Supportive Housing. Staff and board of the organization reported that the effort was more thorough, validating, and actionable than they had even hoped for. Our cohort will continue to draw on these findings in the execution phase of this project, which will take place during our summer 2016 MCL Capstone.

Going through this process was as valuable for both us, as learners, as it was for our nonprofit client. The experience of not just learning about research in a classroom but actually using what we learned to address a real problem was invaluable. We now have the deeper, practical knowledge, as well as the confidence, to move forward to draw on these tools in our own professional lives.

written by Jill Brimeyer, MCL Class of 2017

ECC: Anawim Groundbreaking

On October 6, I got the opportunity to attend a Groundbreaking event for one of Anawim Housing’s new projects: The Brickstones at Riverbend. This new project will be a 30-unit senior living apartment complex and is expected to be completed by fall of 2017. The Brickstones is a really important project, because it will provide affordable housing to people in the community above the age of 55, as well as help to revitalize the 6th Avenue corridor.

I’m glad I was able to attend the event. Several different people spoke, including the mayor of Des Moines and some of Anawim’s board members. Their speeches were inspiring and gave insight as to why the Brickstones project, as well as low income housing in general, is important and necessary. After the speeches, the actual “groundbreaking” took place. Several people, mostly Anawim’s board members, got to put on construction helmets and ceremoniously dig into the ground. I also got a free Anawim Housing mug, could eat free cookies, and got to shake hands with the mayor as well as several of Anawim’s board members.

written by Marina Birely, ECC student working with Anawim Housing

Engaging through listening


By Catherine Osborne, Service Learning Ambassador

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  — Ralph Nichols 

As we see in this Ralph Nichols quote, it is often said that to be understood is one of the greatest human needs. Therefore listening to the people within your community is one of the best ways to engage and serve. It’s crucial that you aren’t just listening to hear, but that you are listening to understand. Listening is a process and it does require effort. One of my favorite sayings is listen deeply. For me this implies listening with intention of understanding, listening to learn, and listening to fight ignorance. We must listen deeply to know how to best serve others.  Throughout this blog I will lay out some steps I have learned that help me to better listen. 

Receive openly

First, we must be open-minded and ready to receive. Receiving the information that your community, neighbors and friends are trying to convey is the beginning of engagement. You must be ready to absorb whatever they are expressing, both verbal and non-verbal. Communication can happen through observing surroundings and being aware of human emotions as well as actual conversation. It is crucial to not let yourself be distracted. There are the obvious distractions like cell phones, but also try not to be distracted by your own thoughts. Sometimes as I am listening I find myself actively thinking of how I will respond to the person I am engaging with. Whether it is thinking of advice I can give or something that I want to bring up when they are done talking. Let yourself hear their words and listen to their actions with an open and absorbent mind.

Process thoroughly

Once you have absorbed the information it is time to process what it means. Allowing time and space for ourselves to process what we have just absorbed is important. Relate what you learned from an individual or community back to your own life to help you understand. Or perhaps process the fact that you may not be able to relate on a personal level at all and think about what that means.  One of my favorite ways to help myself process and gain clarity is to ask questions. Asking intentional questions after processing is one of the best things you can do to fight ignorance as well as show that you care. Make sure to be intentional and thoughtful with your questions.

Respond intentionally

Now that you’ve listened and processed the information, it’s time to evaluate and respond. Evaluate what you just discovered through your processing. Here are some things to think about:  What have you learned? Have any of your perspectives on things been affected? How did the community or person you engaged with impact you? What in life has brought them to be where they are at in this moment? Now here are some things to consider when thinking about how to respond to what you’ve heard: Is a response even necessary? Does this community or person need you to take action on something? Or do they simply just need someone to listen and understand? Do they need you to respond through your own community? Don’t be too quick to jump to a response. The reason that listening is the most important part of communication is because without deeply listening, you will fail to provide a relevant and meaningful response. So next time you are engaging with community I challenge you to receive openly, process thoroughly, and respond intentionally. Listen deeply.

Whipped Cream Pies and Service-Learning


SPLAT. I felt the whipped cream slowly drying in my hair and dripping down my face as yet another whipped cream pie hit me in the face. Normally I don’t spend my Thursday afternoons getting whipped cream pies thrown at me, but this was a special occasion. My First Year Seminar – The Portrayal of Mental Illness and Intellectual Disabilities in the Media – was running the Ruby Van Meter Homecoming carnival for its students. Before this day, I had never been to a place quite like Ruby Van Meter. RVM is a school for students with intellectual disabilities and only intellectual disabilities. They have an amazing amount of resources to work with students and give them the best education possible. All around me, the carnival was full of laughter as students took part in a photo booth, cake walk, fishing for prizes, face painting and of course the pie toss. As I got another pie in the face and another student cackled with laughter, my peers and I agreed that the pies in the face for an hour was worth it and we couldn’t wait for our service learning at Ruby Van Meter to start that week.

ECC: Serving or helping?

I have always viewed service as an extremely powerful thing. Since I was little, there has almost always been some part of my life that’s been connected to at least a simple act of service. I think one of the main aspect that I have taken away from this class so far in relation to my views on service is the idea of “helping” versus “serving” and what it actually means to really serve. This is a topic of interest that I have faced a lot while working with my organization here in Des Moines.

Jewels Academy is a non-profit organization that offers STEM and self-enrichment programs for underrepresented girls in grades 4-12, which is an area that has only recently been brought to the forefront of social awareness. Kim Wayne, who serves as the Executive Director and Chair, founded Jewels in 2005 with the goal of providing young women in the Des Moines area with the competitive edge that they need to succeed both academically and professionally in STEM-focused careers. Many young women experience little to no access to science and technology related educational opportunities, especially more advanced courses. There is also a lack of support, mainly in under-served communities, for girls to pursue careers in science and technology. Jewels Academy provides hands-on learning and introduces innovative concepts and technology in a variety of programs from non-traditional educational programs to a STEM day or boarding school. By offering these in depth programs, they are giving young women the encouraging and nurturing environment necessary to empower and prepare them for success in a national and global STEM workforce.

I have come across this helping versus serving debate a few times in the last two months that I have been working with Kim at Jewels. The goal of service writing as I understand it is to provide service through the work that you do, but so far I have yet to feel like I am truly serving this organization. I have written a few grants and put together two newsletters, and overall I have been thanked for doing those projects. However, I am almost always following a template given to me by the directors, and the majority of my work is edited and changed to more accurately fit their needs. I have always understood that this is what would be happening while working with an organization like this, but am I really serving them if I am not allowed the opportunity to do much of my own work that I feel would benefit them? Or am I only helping them? I have never thought that serving and helping were two separate concepts until recently. The discussion presented that serving is positive while helping is more negative in terms of the effect they have on those receiving the service. I disagree with this because I feel like any type of service can be construed as serving or helping, and can have both positive and negative effects. People should not shy away from doing service work just because they do not think it’s actually “serving”, but it is also important that they feel fulfilled themselves. Hopefully by the end of working with Jewels Academy, I will be able to feel like provided them with meaningful service, even if it is not me really “serving” in every sense of the word.

written by Etta Moline, working with Jewels Academy

ECC: The power of passion

What led me to choose my internship position at the Des Moines Music Coalition?

As part of being a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps program, we have the opportunity to complete a service internship at a local charity organization which we integrate into our classwork. Upon browsing the list of community partner service internship opportunities, there were affordable housing initiatives, a food pantry, and a public transportation organization, but there was a certain organization that really caught my eye: the Des Moines Music Coalition. They would be focusing on raising awareness and fighting the city ordinance that prohibits citizens under the age of 21 to be in music venues serving alcohol past 9pm.

I believe that the most effective service is about passion and fighting for social rights which are close to your heart. I truly believe in the power that live music has to transcend social norms and boundaries, as well as to create a community of people gathered in one place to admire the talents of an artist or group. The feeling that comes with being part of a live crowd is so vibrant and magical, it should not be restricted to the underage population because of a city ordinance. The major project for the Des Moines Music Coalition revolved around advocating for those under the age of 21 through marketing and communications skills. It was perfect to combine my personal passion for live music and practically apply and develop my marketing skills. If I was not passionate for the work my organization was doing, it would be much harder to be intrinsically motivated to apply my very best efforts. Because you know what they say, “you’ll never work a day in your life if you love what you’re doing.”

written by Kyli Selburg, ECC student working with the Des Moines Music Coalition

ECC: A Statement on Race

The following poem is a sample of writing a student has done for their organization.


Race. Origin. Indigenous or aboriginal.

Heritage and background. Ethnicity.

Ethnic Background.

Culture and a cultural understanding.

Or a lack there of. Or simply something to think of.


Or something (cultural understanding)

being the link to a worldwide demanding

of me as me connecting to you as you.

As we travel through our “imagined community”,

being the idea of us understanding all of the fuss

and understanding all of the struggle,

most don’t imagine the community

that places its people on the same level.


Most don’t imagine the ability

of an egalitarisitc society,

being the belief of equality in all peoples.

Most can’t imagine that we bleed the same blood

or that some of us

have been drug through the mud,

or that our people have been murdered

in cold-blood and then have an issue

when I say that we aren’t going

to stand for this shit anymore.


There are people who lack the capacity

to do right and then have the audacity

to project their bullshit and mendacity

upon peoples who, for centuries, have used their tenacity

to rise against the brutality that has been

pushing them down.

And so this is, as they say, a call to arms, for all peoples.



This is, as they say, to show that in war,

there are no unwounded soldiers.


This is, as we are calling them say,

to combat the mental breakdown,

or better yet, the physical beat down,

or even further, the emotional drag down

that is experienced when people feel shut down,

rundown, and struck down because,

maybe, they’re just a little bit too brown.


What I’m speaking of is the disapproval that society

has placed upon its people who have

been worked into their graves,

worked until their hands, minds, bodies are incapable.

I am speaking of the society that forces its people

to remain stuck in time, never to evolve

into the beautiful species that we are.


What I am speaking of is the “culture”

that attempts to strip others of their own through

rebuking of indigenous language, dress, music and faith.

I am making reference to the precious

black and brown babies who, for years,

have been articulating the

immoral, inexcusable, unjustifiable

method and management of a system that was

never set up for their prosperity and yet

has the nerve to claim: “that all men are created equal”.

What I mean to say is that the time is long overdue

for a conversation that we are being forced to have now,

when this truly should have been had

a few hundred years ago.



Some may not agree with me.

Some continue to make the claim that we are all “free”.

I believe that we, collectively,

should agree NOT to disagree.

We should see those that continue to plea,

as they’re down on one knee,

so they don’t feel as if they have to flee from this life

in which P.O.C feel uncomfortable

even trying to feel comfortable.

The definitional line attempting to be solidified

revolves around how we, as the American “we”,

define “Equality” and “Equity” because, news flash,

we do not have root in being a homogenous society.


Race. Origin. Indigenous or aboriginal.

Heritage and background. Ethnicity.

Ethnic Background.

Culture and a cultural understanding.

Or a lack there of. Or simply something to think of.


written by Bakari Caldwell, a sophomore English student working with the Herb and Karen Baum Chair of Ethics in the Professions

ECC: The power of a single organization

On Thursday October 6th, Rebuilding Together and the Des Moines Area Meredith Corporation put forth a work day in which 200 volunteers repaired 5 homes, as well as replaced one park. Meredith Corporation’s volunteers teamed up with Rebuilding Together to  complete these tasks. Home repairs included anything from gardening, repainting homes, installing new fans, or fixing electrical problems throughout each home.

My favorite project of the day was the restoration of the park. Each year on Meredith Work Day, the volunteers completely redo a park. I think having safe and inviting parks is important when building a sense of community. I also didn’t know that Rebuilding Together participated in projects such as park revitalizing. The park that was redone was Redhead Park of Des Moines. Not only did the volunteers completely replace all of the playground equipment, they also brought in outside painters that painted a mural on the concrete of the basketball court. The theme of this park is circus because the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus used to park their crew on that property back in the day. The court was painted with bright red, blue, green, and yellow creating a friendly environment for the kids who will be playing here.

Each year, Rebuilding Together participates in National Rebuilding Day that takes place on the first Saturday of May. On this day, there are over 30 participating homes being repaired by over 700 volunteers. Therefore, the Meredith Work Day, although the outcome was still impactful, was small on the scale compared to other events by Rebuilding Together. This put the work that Rebuilding Together does into perspective for me. It’s obvious that Rebuilding Together makes a difference in the lives of many homeowners, but witnessing the results of the Meredith Work Day, I was able to try understand the power this small nonprofit has on each community it works with.

written by Jamie Lamb, ECC student working with Rebuilding Together

ECC: How true service happens

Today I repaired a house.

Only five words. To put it out in letters and spaces is to oversimplify the power of the words so that it hurts.

Today I worked to build hope. I got to see the faces of three generations of individuals who all live under a roof that did not make them proud. I got to see how my labor was able to meld and join with the work of dozens of other volunteers, staff, and businesses to alleviate at least one tiny fragment of the stress that existed in this family’s life.

Today I worked to build a community. As the neighbors came out to complement, appreciate, and wonder at the color of the paint and the beauty of the windows, I got to see how this labor brought up not only the family living in the house, but the whole environment around it.

Today I worked to build a home. In the back of my mind, the only thought that could ever truly matter was that a family would get to come home each day to this place that they would find beautiful. The knowledge that at the end of the day another human being will get to live better than they did before,—that knowledge is what defines service.

Through my service internship I have gotten to briefly peak at the struggles of those in need, those who were put at a disadvantage; not through any action they ever took, but through a broken system that our society unintentionally created. In my short time of serving, I have come to recognize that true assistance to an individual must come not from a desire to simply help, but rather from a desire to become that person for a moment. To step into their shoes and imagine life from their eyes. Only then, once an individual works to empathize and exist as another, can true service happen.

written by Adam Resnick, ECC student working with Habitat for Humanity

ECC: The Benefits to the Drake Community

Drake University has struggled with and continued to work toward breaking the “Drake bubble”. This concept is that there is mythical separation between the campus and the rest of the ‘real’ world. As part of its mission, Drake has made a claim to develop global citizens. In doing so, the community outside of Drake is drawn upon as part of the classroom. The Engaged Citizen Corps and Office of Service Learning have been created to help live out this mission.

ECC serves to foster positive relations between students and the greater Des Moines community. The students are supposed to get more out of the experience than logging just a couple of hours. Rather, the students learn from their experiences.

The two main demographics being represented through this project are Drake students, particularly those in the ECC, and the Drake nonprofit community. By extension, those who benefit from the community partners are also served as the work of the ECC students is supposed to benefit that organization’s audience.

From my understanding of the ECC program so far, many of the challenges that they are trying to work on come from being a new program. In keeping with that, much of the marketing is being adjusted to accurately and attractively portray what is being done. For instance, I have worked on the ECC web page. In looking it over, there are some choices that could benefit the website from a marketing standpoint. One such change I have worked on is using the opening paragraph as a way of drawing in those who are reading. This project was really about trying to be informative and engaging the readers.

Through working with the ECC and developing an accurate and appealing website, I have been able to see the active work that is being done to break the negative “Drake bubble”. These young individuals and those running the program are really dedicated to making changes within the community.

written by Maddie Miller, English student

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