Competing for the community: DePaul students partner with Neighborhood Housing Services for national competition

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For the Neighborhood Housing Services’ 40th anniversary, students wrote what they want to see change in their communities in the next 40 years. The event was organized by students competing in the naional Bateman Case Study Competition. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

For the Neighborhood Housing Services’ 40th anniversary, students wrote what they want to see change in their communities in the next 40 years. The event was organized by students competing in the naional Bateman Case Study Competition. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Graduating seniors are handed not only a diploma, but also the responsibility of finding employment, paying off student loans and building credit. 

It’s an overwhelming feeling and tends to contribute to the bitter half of the bittersweet relief of graduation.

With this in mind, several DePaul students decided to target Millennials in partnership with the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS) for a national public relations competition. NHS focuses on building strong communities through education and resources for homeowners living in the city.

Senior Chris Devadatta lead one of two teams of students that will represent DePaul University for the first time next month at the national Bateman Case Study Competition.

The Bateman Competition challenged students to design a campaign that raised awareness, increased media coverage, introduced potential fundraising and broadened the reach of the teams’ chosen non-profit housing organization.

DePaul’s teams chose NHS which, since its founding in 1975, has provided foreclosure counseling and education to more than 27,000 homeowners and given out $577,000 in loans.

“Their niche is housing, but (NHS) specializes in a lot of things like savings, credit and managing student loans as well,” Devadatta said. “The end-all goal (for NHS clients) is to get housing, but we kind of want to focus on other aspects, like branching out to Millennials and things they find relevant.”

Associate professor Maria De Moya leads the class that participates in the competition. At the end of March the two teams will submit their results in the hopes of winning the $2,500 first-place prize and an all expenses paid trip to the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

“This is the first time DePaul is doing (the competition) because it requires resources,” De Moya said.

It costs $50 per team to enter the competition, which DePaul paid for, and each team member must pay the $50 PRSSA membership fee to participate. Students also paid about $30 each to fund half of each team’s $300 budget, the other half of which was also paid for by DePaul.

Students had to apply to take De Moya’s class and needed experience in other PR and advertising classes.

Devadatta’s team designed a campaign to address financial security questions for recent college graduates.

“I think what we forget a lot of times is that to be a sustainable homeowner you really have to start at a young age,” NHS Public Relations and Marketing Associate Kevin Wilson said. “Thinking about how student loan debt is going to affect the rest of (students’) lives, and how they kind of need to start planning things out now — we thought (working with De Moya’s class) was a really good opportunity for us.”

De Moya’s class began their research at the beginning of January, which put them at a disadvantage against semester-system schools that have been planning for months. Each team identified a goal, target audience, and strategy that they had to implement in February, and by the end of March the teams will have evaluated and submitted their results to the competition.

Sophomore Shantae Howell led her team’s campaign to increase awareness about NHS in honor of their 40th anniversary. In addition to posting daily on social media, Howell’s team organized an event at DePaul’s Lincoln Park Student Center that invited students to learn more about Chicago’s communities and the work NHS does there.

“We wanted to get more people involved in the community, so we partnered with the DePaul Community Service Association (DCSA),” Howell said. Howell’s team also partnered with the African Student Association to advertise the event via social media.

“That’s a really great way to get people involved and outside of the little niche that is DePaul,” Howell said.

Howell’s team also made weekly visits to neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, Humboldt Park and Englewood to “highlight some of the assets of communities that people normally see the downsides of, but not the assets of,” Howell said.

On Feb. 17 Devadatta’s team partnered with DePaul Financial Fitness to educate students and other others about managing credit and its impact on getting a job, a home, a car and other priorities.

The toughest part about managing credit for current students, senior Chris Devadatta said, is “how overwhelming it all is.”

“You’re told to do something to get good credit, but (credit agencies) won’t accept you because you don’t have any credit history,” Devadatta said. “Having enough money to start a savings account, paying off your loans at DePaul — it all comes at once.”

Wilson explained however that it’s easier for students to get loans than they think.

“We found that lenders are a lot more open to working with people who have loan debt because they realize they are college graduates and they have a stable job,” Wilson said. “We’re just trying to get students to think about (home owning) early and not be discouraged by the housing decline.”

Part of the draw to marketing NHS services to young people, Wilson said, was the effort to prevent another housing crisis like in 2008.

“The more people we can inform, the more people we can have prepared,” Wilson said.

“We’ve never really focused on young people before, but we’ve started to realize that it’s an audience that we really need to start tapping into,” Wilson said. “So it’s been great to have these teams to help us connect with that audience.”

With the end of the competition in sight, Wilson said he hopes the students’ work can continue.

“We’d really love to turn this into an internship program where students who are interested in this kind of work can get their hands dirty a little more,” Wilson said.

Devadatta and Howell have been thankful for the experience and are ready to put it on their resumes.

“Last night I had a networking event and I capitalized on how I’ve been able to go from planning an event to implementing a campaign in a month,” Devadatta said. “(It) was looked very highly upon by the PR people there.”

Last year a team from the University of Florida placed first out of the 51 teams that entered the competition. The winners will be announced in June after three finalists present their results to a board of judges in April. DeMoya said the teams have not decided what to do with the prize money should they win.

De Moya said she plans to offer the Bateman class again next year.

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