CMU students supporting dog park efforts through class project

Samantha Madar | Photo Editor Mount Pleasant resident Ken Hofmeister talks with his wife Andi Hofmeister at Pixie, 302 N Mission St. on Wednesday. The Friends of the Dog Park had a fundraiser there where 20 percent of the cost their meal went to the organization.

Central Michigan University students are using their skills in public relations to make the dreams of a local organization come true.

Since the start of the spring semester, students in four classes taught by Tracy Burton, a CMU journalism professor, have been helping to promote fundraisers put on by Friends of the Dog Park.

Burton said after speaking with board member Ken Hofmeister, she knew Friends of the Dog Park would be an ideal organization for her students to work with.

“I’m really big on involving students in real practical experiences,” Burton said. “At the end of the semester they can leave with some good stuff for their portfolio.”

A Mount Pleasant organization that formed in November 2012, Friends of the Dog Park is seeking to use a site at Mission Creek Park to construct a place where dogs can run free, off the leash.

The first of four student-promoted fundraisers was held Wednesday at Pixie Restaurant in Mount Pleasant. Pixie agreed to donate 20 percent of each bill when a flyer was presented.

Hofmeister was present at the fundraiser and has been coordinating with Burton to involve her students since meeting her at the board’s first fundraiser in October.

This fundraiser will be compared to the other three being supported by Burton’s classes, which include two sets of JRN 450 and JRN 551. The pair have agreed to award a prize to the winning class based on the amount of money raised at their fundraiser and the effort shown by the students.

Burton had Hofmeister visit each class and give a presentation about Friends of the Dog Park, their mission and how they planned to succeed. Burton prefers when her students get a taste for the grassroots efforts put forth by smaller organizations such as Friends of the Dog Park.

The students have worked with Hofmeister to maximize the effective use of Facebook and other social media on behalf of the board. Students were encouraged to monitor the use of the organization’s Facebook page and website to look for possible areas of improvement.

“Each class is charged with ramping up attendance to these particular fundraisers,” Burton said.

Taking it to the students

Senior Ben Smith of Rochester Hills has taken up a leadership role within his JRN 551 class since learning about their new project. A dog owner himself, Smith knows the importance of a park where dogs can be allowed to run free and off their leashes.

Smith said one of the challenges he faces is collecting support, not only from the community, but from his other classmates as well.

“I’m trying to get more people involved with it,” Smith said. “Now we’re starting to break it down into who actually wants to be involved with that and who doesn’t, and we’ll be able to go from there.”

Smith’s class is in charge of promoting La Seniorita’s upcoming fundraiser, which takes place April 24. In order to prepare, Smith and his classmates are providing suggestions to optimize the use of Facebook and the Friends of the Dog Park website.

He said he is also brainstorming other avenues of social media the organization can utilize to increase public awareness.

“I thought an Instagram would be really cool, being that dogs are cute and everyone likes taking pictures of them,” Smith said. “I have a dog myself and I take a million pictures. I thought it would be a good idea as far as penetrating more markets.”

The intersection of public relations and the community is where Burton's students come in, and where she hopes they will learn the most about what public relations can really do for others.

The next fundraiser in the public relations challenge will be held at Bennigan’s in Mount Pleasant on April 3, followed by the La Seniorita fundraiser on the April 24 and at Italian Oven on May 1. Patrons can bring a hard or digital copy of the flyer to donate 20 percent of their bill to Friends of the Dog Park.

Friends of the Dog Park has 86 percent of their overall fundraising goal of $39,188, and hope to have fundraising completed by summer.

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