Since the Public Relations Student Society of America chapter in the School of Communication and Media began hosting its annual benefit concerts for Autism New Jersey in 2012, the student organization has raised more than $20,000 for the state’s leading autism advocacy group. Its just completed April 3 concert contributed nearly $5,000 to the total. Each year, the benefit ranks among the top 10 privately sponsored fundraisers for Autism New Jersey.
On one level, the annual event reflects the school’s ongoing commitment to community engagement, while it also fulfills an internal priority for interdisciplinary work, by including students in the College of the Arts' music and theater programs. However, one cannot overlook the larger story, and that is what a group of public relations students have accomplished with its annual event, which has now become a part of Autism New Jersey’s more anticipated annual statewide fundraisers in April, which is Autism Awareness Month. Consider the involvement of elite Broadway stars, such as Laura Benanti, Marin Mazzie, Melba Moore, and Stephanie J. Block. Combined, the four total two Tony awards, more than 10 Tony nominations, and over 30 other theatrical nominations and awards from the Outer Critics and Drama Desk organizations. Throw in a major film actress, Moira Kelly (“The Lion King”), a top drawer Los Angeles based comic, Sunda Croonquist, the College of the Arts own freshmen musical talent, plus appearances by the Papermill Playhouse Show Choir, and you’ve got a professional event that even the most seasoned event planner would be proud to put on a resume.
More than that, the event shines a bright light on the type of invaluable, hands-on, real world opportunities the public relations majors in the School of Communication and Media can get while in school, even freshmen, like Katelyn Woebse, who was an integral part of the event’s planning . “It was a pleasure being a part of the autism event. I enjoyed seeing people of all ages attending! If I could do it all again I would.”
Planning for the event takes an entire year. It begins in the summer when faculty adviser Larry Weiner and the officers in the PRSSA travel to Robbinsville, New Jersey, to meet with administrators from Autism New Jersey to plan the coordination of the event. The meetings typically include the organization’s Executive Director Suzanne Buchanan, Communication Director Jessica Barkofsky, and Brynn Alberici, the manager of special events and community relations.
The venue is then reserved, and when the fall semester kicks off, the first PRSSA meeting typically takes place the third or fourth week in September when the event is announced. Soon thereafter, specific responsibilities for the fundraiser are assigned to the membership’s students, such as talent acquisition, outside contributions, fundraising, promotional and program design activities, catering, raffle items, and social media outreach, and, of course, hosting the event itself.
The PRSSA team that made the event happen includes junior Melissa Cardona Torres, the president of the PRSSA , while additional involvement included Cynthia Huasipoma, Jessica Ortega, Ashley Schramm, Sabrina Araullo, Kataelyn Woebse, Alyssa Ruiz, Audrey Dingler, Jennifer Panella, Kinga Kosmala, and Joshua Oksman. Additional support came from Bryan Denis, who designed the promotional material.
Positive comments about the event came from faculty, such as SCM professor Marc Rosenweig, “The Autism New Jersey event was a joyous celebration of great talent for an important initiative” – and, from students, including Jenna Puccia, who added, “I attended the Autism Awareness event! I even brought out some of my sisters to join me. It was definitely something special and I wish more people came because you could definitely see the hard work and passion put into it.” Journalism major Adrianne Natoli said, I know that Montclair has a really great musical department, and so I was impressed.”
Alberici stated, “Thank you to Larry Weiner and the Montclair State University Public Relations Student Society of America for organizing another outstanding event to spread autism awareness and acceptance! Autism New Jersey is grateful to have community partners like you to support New Jersey’s autism community. With 1 in 41 children with autism in New Jersey, it is imperative that we have community members who lead by example and that is what your team of students and the incredibly talented cast of people who came together for your event did.”
Of course, the books on the event aren’t completely closed until Weiner and PRSSA members travel to Autism New Jersey headquarters later this spring to hand over the check and also begin planning the following year’s benefit concert.