WOU students team with area senior citizens to host gala

Statesman Journal
By Justin Much

Students taking an upper-division class this spring at Western Oregon University are gaining worthwhile experience by helping some of Monmouth’s most experienced.

It’s a match for the ages: Molly Mayhead’s 400-level event-planning class meets Friends of the Monmouth Senior Center (MSC) to collectively stage a fund-raising effort that promotes the center’s ongoing quest for expansion. MSC’s fundraising efforts have been in the works since 2004.

Earlier this year Mayhead brainstormed with Monmouth City Councilor (and the area’s 2012 First Citizen) Cec Koontz, with the ideal aim of finding an endeavor that furthers the class’ objective and that of a local entity. That brainstorming brew mixed senior citizens with primarily senior students, and cooked up “In The Mood,” a themed evening of entertainment, music and auctions hosted by Rickreall’s Eola Hills Winery & Vineyard.

“The Senior Center is attempting to raise money to renovate their facility, as they serve 16,000 people a year and are running out of space,” Mayhead said.

“We are hosting a party/silent auction for them on June 7th. So, we are bringing seniors, the WOU community, and the general population together for a night titled ‘In The Mood,’ at Eola Hills Winery again.”

Mayhead’s same upper-division class conducted a similar function at Eola Hills late in 2009 to raise money for the Monmouth Independence Community Foundation. The professor stressed that she is grateful for Eola Hills’ openhanded collaboration, renting space at a significantly generous discount.

MSC’s aim is simple: they are running out of space and need more.

“They started the building fund in 2004 and have been working on it for a long time,” said Marie Kristiansen, the center’s front person for fundraising efforts.

Kristiansen said the center’s attendance is growing, and its kitchen has been deployed as a Northwest Senior & Disability Services senior meal site, hastening the need for facility expansion. Center fundraisers totaled $62,000 between 2004 and 2011. MSC spent $12,000 for floor plans. At this juncture center fundraisers are seeking grants with an understanding that they need to raise another $50,000 to demonstrate a firm commitment to potential benefactors.

The students hope to be a significant part of that – and seniors are grateful.

“It has been a wonderful experience working with the (Monmouth) Senior Center and being able to see how excited they are about this event,” said Jessica Bruck, a WOU senior majoring in communications. “Bringing college students and the seniors together has been a huge success and has allowed all of us to branch out and connect with each other.”

Kristiansen agreed.

“This has been a wonderful experience for all of us,” Kristiansen added. “They are very enthusiastic; they are very impressed with the seniors, and the seniors are very impressed with them. It’s been a wonderful blending of generations.”

Mayhead intends for that enthusiasm to double as a lesson with the planning process exercising skills in marketing, rhetoric, public relations, conflict and resolution.

“In addition to gaining tangible experience in practicing the communication concepts they have learned (in class), students also gain an understanding about non-profit work as well as a sense of what it means to be part of the greater local community,” Mayhead said.
Echoes from her students seem to bear that out.

“One of the best things that I have seen from planning this event? Community involvement,” Bruck said. “I have been pleasantly surprised at how receptive and generous the surrounding community has been. I have been welcomed by every business and individual that I have reached out to, and this just goes to show how supportive people truly are.”

Senior communications major Silas Heisler is having similar experiences.

”I think that the process is very eye opening,” said Heisler, who is also earning a legal studies minor. “It was surprising to see how willing local businesses were to help a worthwhile cause, even in tougher economic times. It’s really shown me how members of this community can be willing to help others within the community.”

It’s a demonstration these students are happy to join.

“I am hoping we can really raise a lot of money to help out the Friends of the Monmouth Senior Center,” Heisler said. “We have a great group of students really working hard to make sure that this event is successful.”

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