Communications major gets project on the board
By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
Heather Davenport never dreamed that such a challenging summer could be so meaningful.
The Grand Canyon University junior had traveled home to Bend, Ore., in the spring to finish a class group project, inspired by grandparents there whom she often joined on their volunteer Meals on Wheels route. The program delivers food to people, many of them elderly who lack mobility.
When she showed up with food at their doors, they would joyfully welcome her in to show her their gardens, pets or photographs of their grandchildren.
“I realized how much impact I had on these people,” she said. “I realized their social isolation and that it was a problem that most people don’t see because it’s out of sight, out of mind: These seniors became immobile and are stuck at home.”
Their plight stayed with her, so the Communications major led an effort by a group of six GCU students in her Communications Campaign course to create a mock marketing campaign highlighting the need to help with their isolation. She discovered during her research that isolation negatively affects them mentally and physically.
“I thought it was an opportunity to make people understand what is going on,” she said.
Davenport showed grandparents Jean and Don Nachtwey her Instagram graphic for the project. They liked it so much that they took it to the Council on Aging of Central Oregon, which runs the Meals on Wheels program.
It hit home instantly. Amid a pandemic, Davenport had connected the dots to highlight the everyday plight of the elderly:
Imagine social distancing.
All. The. Time.
“That is a quite impactful small set of words that makes people stop and think,” said Denise LaBuda, Director of Communications at the Council on Aging. “It is difficult to engage people on aging in our country, so the isolation angle is helpful because it’s something that more people are able to relate to because of COVID.”
The agency asked if they could post the message, with its photograph of a senior citizen in black and white, on their Facebook page. It became the most popular post in a year for its number of likes and comments, LaBuda said, which led to placing it on a billboard that has also created community engagement.
“It’s really cool that it came full circle,” Davenport said. “This mock campaign became a real campaign.
“I was so happy I could have this opportunity to make a difference. Most people can’t relate to isolation because they are usually out and about. But during this time of pandemic they learned how miserable isolation can be.”
Davenport and five other GCU students in Dr. Reka Nagy’s course executed the idea: They identified the problem, researched who it affected, defined the goal of the message and its target audience for different platforms.
Davenport’s platform was Instagram, and the graphic she created drove it home, Nagy said. She carefully chose the right photograph with the right facial expression and colors and words and punctuation to relate the isolation.
“It appeals to the audience: How come we have never thought about this?” Nagy said. “It triggers feelings and emotions. More than ever, it resonates with them now. We do care for our parents and grandparents, call them, visit them time to time, but we then go back to our daily routine. We rarely think about how they feel in the situation they are in. This whole situation caused by COVID had us step in their shoes.”
Davenport said her GCU class became “totally relatable to the real world” and joined the agency as a volunteer to see the campaign through. It’s now on their agency home page.
It became a powerful reminder of the impact of intergenerational contact, said LaBuda, who also entered the field after volunteering with family members as a youngster. She was so impressed with Davenport that she offered her a digital marketing job.
Davenport declined the offer because she wanted to continue her studies at GCU. But it may have changed the course of her career. She decided to double major, adding Marketing to the mix.
“I like the creativity of it, coming up with ideas on how to engage people and pay attention to your brand or cause,” she said. “I would like to get into nonprofits because what you are doing really helps people.”
She could stand below her billboard in Bend and know that she is helping spread a vital message: Reach out to homebound folks who may need company.
“It only takes a coffee date, a phone call, a knock on the door, or reaching out in any form to improve the health and life of a senior,” Davenport wrote in her campaign’s plea to act when it’s again safe. “We wouldn’t want to social distance for the rest of our lives. And seniors shouldn’t have to.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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