Most students are happy to get out of a class with an A and some solid experience. Students in Cathy Edelstein’s class are hoping for at least $8,000 and an end to women straw-purchasing guns.
The 22 students in Nonprofit Fundraising have spent the semester planning a gala for Operation LIPSTICK, a Boston-based organization that works in the community to educate women and prevent them from buying firearms and holding weapons for men who can’t pass background checks to buy their own.
The Last Straw will be held Saturday, April 15, 7:00–10:00 pm, in the Bordy Theater. Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley and Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley, a LIPSTICK board member, will speak. Comedian Jimmy Tingle will perform, and dinner is included in the ticket price.
“It’s definitely a real-world experience working with a client who none of us were familiar with,” said Lauren Hoyerman ’17. “It’s definitely a great experience.”
Throughout the semester, students in the class have been working with various nonprofits, helping them with smaller campaigns and new ideas, Hoyerman said. They’ve also been reading and discussing fundraising case studies.
But the main focus of the course, now in its second semester, is the fundraiser. Last spring, Edelstein and her students threw a gala for HandReach, which promotes quality of life for survivors of burn injuries.
That class raised roughly $8,000 for their cause, said Edelstein, senior scholar-in-residence in Communication Studies. This year she’d like to at least match that number.
Like last year, students write their own job descriptions and organize themselves into committees to tackle the task. Hoyerman, who works on the press relations team, called the course a “life skills” class as much as an academic class.
She said at the beginning of the semester, her team decided they would have a press release by February, ready to roll into local news outlets’ inboxes.
“We’ve probably revised the press release 50 times and it went out a month later than we thought it would, but it’s definitely been an interesting and rewarding experience,” Hoyerman said.
Operation LIPSTICK Executive Director Nancy Robinson gives the final yea or nay, but every aspect of The Last Straw has come from the students: ideas, strategies, speaker list, entertainment, food.
They’re helped by a $1,000 Service Learning Innovation grant from Emerson’s Office of Academic Engagement and Community Action.
Not only are they learning how to plan and publicize a major fundraising event, but they’re also learning how to manage a budget, an essential skill in the nonprofit world.
“I’m so proud of my students,” Edelstein said. “They’ve been working so hard.”
It doesn’t hurt that their client has a ton of momentum.
Operation LIPSTICK (Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killing), a project of the nonprofit Citizens for Safety, recently was featured in People magazine, and is in the middle of taking its proven methodology to partners on the ground in New York City and Oakland/San Francisco, California.
Suffolk DA Dan Conley has credited the program with a 33 percent drop in gun crimes by women; gun crimes in this case being primarily straw purchasing weapons.
Robinson, LIPSTICK’s executive director, tells a story that highlights the problem. A woman hid her boyfriend’s gun in her glove compartment—it’s a common behavior, Robinson said, because oftentimes the women feel beholden to the men. Maybe they help support the women financially, maybe the women have low self-esteem.
This woman was pulled over, and when the police searched her car and found her gun, she was arrested. She lost custody of her two daughters, she faced a permanent felony conviction, and she was slammed with fines she couldn’t afford to pay. She lost her public housing, and it took her three years to get into a new place.
“What we hear from women most often is that they don’t know this gesture of helping out a friend is criminal,” Robinson said. “They’re really in the dark about it and the first time they understand it is when they get a knock on the door by the police.”
LIPSTICK tries to reach these women by sending respected community members to the places they are—schools, youth programs, church basements, domestic violence and homeless shelters—to teach them about the dangers of straw purchasing and hiding guns.
“It all starts with peer-to-peer education,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to parachute in… Because it’s coming from community leaders, women who’ve lost family members to gun violence, former straw purchasers who ran into trouble with the law, that message is resonating.”
The organization is also reaching out to men. They recently visited a Massachusetts correctional facility, and 90 percent of the inmates they spoke to said that they had used women to procure guns for them, Robinson said.
The men allowed themselves to be taped demonstrating the language and tricks they used to persuade the women to get them guns, and Robinson is hoping to use the money raised by the Emerson class to create videos that can be shown to women online and at workshops.
Robinson has been Skyping into Edelstein’s class once a week or so and is looking forward to visiting in person. She said she’s been impressed with how motivated and creative the students are, and with the class itself.
“I told [Edelstein] I wish I had taken her class, because it’s so hands-on and she really brings the real-world experience into the classroom,” Robinson said.
Tickets for The Last Straw start at $75 and can be purchased at Eventbrite.