Around the country, horse sanctuaries are struggling to provide for more and more animals. Horses that have outlived their usefulness on the racetrack and in the show ring are often abandoned by their owners. Other horses are rescued from kill auctions. These horses are often young and healthy. The only thing they lack is a home.
Recognizing the need for more public support of horse sanctuaries, students majoring in media studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield have taken on a unique class assignment -- promoting the work of HORSE of Connecticut (Humane Organization Representing Suffering Equines).
This all-volunteer nonprofit founded in 1981 by Patty Wahlers is located on 47 acres in Washington, Conn. Because it has no funds for advertising or public relations, students in Professor Debbie Danowski's class, Advertising and Public Relations: Practical Applications, took responsibility for creating flyers, managing the website, writing the newsletter "HORSE Happenings," and finding innovative ways to raise much needed funds. Students are required to work together to prepare promotional materials and must visit the farm.
Professor Danowski grew up in Bridgeport, graduated from Sacred Heart and later received a PhD in media education from Capella University.
"Not everyone can adopt a horse, so this is a nonprofit with unique challenges," Danowski said. Since she began working with HORSE two years ago, she has adopted two of its animals.
"How do you convince someone to sponsor a horse for $50 a month? What is your response to someone who tells you that people are more important than horses? These are some of the challenges my students face. They are learning how to put public relations theory into practice," she added.
The class also relies heavily on social media to encourage people to get involved with supporting HORSE through their twitter and Facebook accounts. Last year, students in the class created "Carrots and Apples," an on-campus promotion to provide the horses cared for by the organization with the estimated 200 pounds of carrots and 50 pounds of apples that they consume each week. This year in addition to "Carrots and Apples," "Coins for Carrots" boxes will be distributed around the campus where students can deposit their change.
This year's "Carrots and Apples" drive runs from April 7 to April 14. The students write all the promotional materials and look for innovative ways to engage the college community. Last year, Danowski's students filled the back of a pick-up truck with carrots and apples.
Emily Jennings of Westport is a junior at Sacred Heart taking Danowski's course.
"I was involved in creating a flyer for `Poker Ride,' which will raise money for HORSE by inviting horse lovers to ride a trail in Washington, and look for poker cards. It is a great experience helping an amazing organization. They need the support and we love doing it," she said.
As for grades, Danowski involves Patty Wahlers and her volunteers with reviewing the students' work to determine how successful they have been in communicating HORSE of Connecticut's mission as well as raising money through promotional activities.
"Patty and her volunteers have been great," Danowski said. "They review materials created by the students and offer their feedback."
The biggest challenge any nonprofit faces is getting visibility. Sacred Heart University students have given HORSE of Connecticut valuable marketing and public relations tools while also collecting carrots and apples. This is a truly noteworthy example of how an educational institution can help an animal welfare organization reach new audiences.