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Ballroom as Classroom: Nonprofit Fundraising Class Runs Benefit for Burn Survivors

Cathy Edelstein and Brecken Chinn both taught at Emerson College but hadn’t really crossed paths until mutual colleagues urged them to meet. It only made sense—Edelstein teaches courses in nonprofit communication, and Chinn is the founder of, a nonprofit that promotes quality of life for survivors of burns and other traumatic injuries.

One lunch later and Edelstein had a beneficiary for her Nonprofit Fundraising Campaigns class, and Chinn, who is an affiliated faculty member, had an event that would help raise awareness of “burn thrivers.”

Ignite the Night: A Celebration Benefiting Burn Thrivers Worldwide will be held on Saturday, April 16, 7:00–10:00 pm, in the Bordy Theater.

The event will feature food, drinks, and entertainment, including Emerson’s own Treble Makers a cappella group; dance company Paradise Lost; and drummer, motivational speaker, and burn survivor Dan Caro. Muji Karim, who lost both legs in a fiery car crash, also will attend, according to the event’s webpage.

“Basically, we want to give people the experience of what being a [burn] thriver really looks like,” Chinn said of Ignite the Night. “It’s going to be an exciting, dynamic event with a lot of alchemy going on.”

Every aspect of the event is being planned and executed by Edelstein’s class, part of Emerson’s new Nonprofit Communication Management minor. Students chose their own roles in the campaign—public relations, outside sponsorship, entertainment, facility, food—and wrote their own job descriptions, Edelstein said.

“These are all new positions for them, so in real time, they’re learning while they’re actually planning,” said Edelstein, senior scholar-in-residence in the Department of Communication Studies. “But that’s real-world experience, and now all of them can put this in their portfolio.”

Chinn created in 2004 as an educational organization, but a young girl she met in Beijing changed HandReach’s focus—and Chinn’s life.

The girl, Zhou Lin, was badly burned on her legs and was begging on the streets. Chinn was able to bring the girl to a Shriners Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she underwent surgery, was fitted with prostheses, and was able to resume an active life.

Today, helps people like Zhou Lin lead fulfilling lives. The organization works in the developing world, primarily in China, but plans to expand to South Asia and Africa in coming years, Chinn said.

“If a burn survivor gets proper care in time, they can live a very full and vibrant life,” she said. “[Many] find new life purpose after surviving a significant injury.”

Emerson is the only school in the region to offer so much hands-on experience to undergraduate students, said Edelstein, who teaches a course in the fall that allows students to assess and advise actual organizations on their communications plans.

Alexandra Howard ’16, a Political Communication major who is minoring in Nonprofit Communication Management, was one of two students in charge of facilities and décor for the event. They were responsible for booking the space; renting tables, chairs, linens, and dining ware; and trying to transform the Bordy into a party space to the extent possible. They based their color scheme and décor on’s logo: two intertwined hands, one blue, one orange.

Howard said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with a real-life client as an undergraduate student. Because so many nonprofits are financially strapped, there doesn’t seem to be as many internship opportunities to help students “get their foot in the door,” she said, and “knowing how to do nine different jobs” is a big advantage when it comes to getting hired.

“I did really like doing the fundraising stuff,” Howard said. “It’s kind of exciting, because it does feel kind of corporate, but you still know you’re doing it for a good cause.”

Chinn said anyone attending Ignite the Night should not expect to sit around and politely watch a show. The pinnacle of the evening will be a “drum dance jam” led by Caro, and everyone will be asked to join in, she said.

Those attending should expect to be uplifted, Chinn said.

“Some of the most brilliantly hopeful, passionate people I know chose life after having that threatened, and it’s just unbelievably inspiring, both to me and to people who work in the burn community, and we’re just excited to share that with Emerson,” she said.

Tickets to Ignite the Night are $50 and can be purchased online. Those who cannot attend the event can also make a donation to at the site.

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