The VCU Volunteer Program collaborates with a local non-profit organization

The Caring Clothes Closet CreateAthon team creates materials for the nonprofit organization. Photo courtesy of Mikaela Peters

Chloe Hawkins, Contributing author

A new website, social media presence, logo and name – Caring Clothes Closet, a local non-profit, received these promotional materials from VCU’s CreateAthon.

CreateAthon is both a course offered at VCU and a volunteer program located on campus. This spring semester, the program is working with local Richmond nonprofits, like Caring Clothes Closet.

“It’s an amazing way to teach students about missions and real customers while giving back to the local community,” said advertising professor Jessica Collins.

CreateAthon is working with four different nonprofits this semester: Slyderz Youth Baseball League, Bright Minds RVA, Better2gether RVA, and Caring Clothes Closet. According to Collins, there are certain criteria when choosing which nonprofits to help.

“We like to help those who are just starting out and haven’t been established yet,” Collins said.

The program also hosts a 24-hour event where teams complete publicity deliverables such as social media websites and brand name logos for their nonprofits in a single day, according to junior advertising student Taliesin Zawhorodny. strategic.

The teams worked on brand research, got to know their nonprofit better and acquired what they needed for the event, according to Zawhorodny.

He said the whole experience of the 24-hour event was very interesting and equally exhausting, as he stayed awake for the entire duration.

“It’s gotten to a point where you know what you need to do, and you know how to do it, but you just don’t have enough brain power to execute it anymore,” Zawhorodny said.

Zawhorodny said the entire day spent with their classmates gave them plenty of time to build strong relationships.

“You get to know your team in a way that you don’t know the other classmates at school,” Zawhorodny said. “Whether it’s talking, taking breaks, watching out for each other, or just being.”

Mass communication students not taking the one-semester course can still register for the 24-hour event, according to Zawhorodny.

“We weren’t supposed to do any real, tangible, deliverable work before the 24-hour event,” Zawhorodny said. “After two months, we had a team of four other mass communication students who had signed up just to take part in the event.”

The publicity materials needed for Caring Clothes Closet included creating a new website, fixing their social media presence, and creating an all-new logo and name, according to Caring Clothes Closet founder Sara Fender.

Fender said the students did a “great job” of taking all of this information and coming back to help tell the story of the nonprofits. The work the students do for her and her nonprofit, mostly at no cost, Fender said.

“It’s something we probably wouldn’t have the money to pay for,” Fender said. “This team has also been so much more passionate than, say, maybe an ad agency.”

While the event happened during VCU’s spring break, teams are still working on the finishing touches on the desired marketing elements requested by Fender.

Fender started collecting clothes with his local church, the United Methodist Foundation, 14 years ago. Since then, she has been collecting clothes for families in need, according to Fender.

Fender took a course called “Prosper” in the fall of 2021 at Spark Mill, a consulting firm that helps brands grow their businesses, Fender said.

Fender said she was able to redefine her nonprofit’s vision, mission, and overall impact on the community in “Prosper.” She said this course has helped “tons” of her work with CreateAthon.

“I had all this great information about how we needed to do better to tell our story,” Fender said.

Fender said the timing of this trip was perfect. Right after the course ended, Jessica Collins contacted her about collaborating with CreateAthon.

“I was like, ‘oh my god, what a great time since I have all this new, exciting information,'” Fender said. “I went directly from this class to CreateAthon.”

Sarah Stork, a junior advertising student at VCU and a CreateAthon participant, said that while the students aren’t trained professionals, “they know what they’re doing.”

Stork acted as the primary contact to schedule meetings with the nonprofit during the semester, she said. His group knew right away that they wanted this nonprofit over the others, Stork said.

“Most of the nonprofits got started on Zoom, but Sara Fender came in person,” Stork said. “We really liked her because of her personality and we were like, ‘Okay, that’s the one we want.

Stork said working in this position was very demanding at times but nonetheless “very rewarding”.

“I’m just helping us keep going and staying on track,” Stork said. “It’s been a little stressful trying to balance it all out, but it’s been fun overall.”

Caring Clothes Closet will celebrate 10 years as an established nonprofit this month, according to Fender. She said the CreateAthon student team met and exceeded their goals during this process of upgrading their company.

“They really took our little ‘mom and pop’ nonprofit to the next level to compete with the ‘big boys’ in the community,” Fender said.


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