As part of a public relations capstone class, Manship School of Mass Communication students are working with an organization called “Students for LOPA” to raise awareness for donating and debunking myths regarding organ donors.
According to its website, LOPA (Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency) is a federally designated, not for profit organ and tissue recovery agency for the state of Louisiana. The student group’s goal is to create a public relations campaign to spread awareness and education about organ donations and to increase the number of donors from college students.
Mass communication senior Whitney Hicks said she decided to work on the organ donor project because she felt that it was an important cause. She served as the writing director for the group.
“I think we all kind of have connections to organ donations in some way,” Hicks said. “I had an uncle who chose to donate his body to science after he died, so we all have little things that made us gravitate toward LOPA.”
Mass communication senior Jacob McManus, who served as the creative director for the group, said he agreed with Hicks.
“We had a chance in class to speak with some professionals at different organizations before we ended up choosing our groups,” McManus said. “I think personally, a lot of us felt connected to LOPA’s mission. They do a really good job of branding themselves. Their slogan is ‘Making Life Happen.’”
McManus said that the project had a big impact on him and that he learned a lot from this opportunity. He said had the chance to work with some unique and interesting people.
“I think a lot of the stories they (LOPA) shared with us have kind of helped us grow closer to their overall mission of helping others,” McManus said. “I think it’s been a good process and I definitely connected from the start.”
Mass communication senior Ty’Queese Keyes, who served as the social media director, said that working on this project gave her a new perspective.
“The biggest thing I learned was realizing that when they say ‘the gift of life,’ it really is the gift of life,” Keyes said. “It made me realize that life is really valuable and that it’s very short for some. Just be grateful for the life that you have.”
She said listening to the many volunteers talk showed how grateful they are to the donors.
Mass communication senior Donovan Suggs, who served as the creative and strategy member for the team, said he liked the organization’s mission.
When he heard about the work that LOPA does, he said he felt inclined to get involved and help contribute.
“I just liked their goal of always trying to save a life,” Suggs said. “I feel personally connected because when I was little, I lost a family member because they couldn’t be saved in time. It was the fact that people were trying to donate their organs, I just really appreciate them.”
Mass communication senior Hope Quigley, who served as promotions director, said she was inspired to work on the project when she first heard a representative from LOPA explain the organizations mission and goals.
“The person in contact who we talked to was named Lori,” Quigley said. “When she had first come and talked to us, hearing her explain everything and just listening to how passionate she was about organ donations just really inspired me to want to work with them.”
Hicks said that the main purpose of the class is constructing a public relations campaign for an organization that students are passionate about.
The group was inspired to try and create a campaign for a man named Mark Scotch, who is from Wisconsin. Scotch was in Natchitoches, a city located roughly 180 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, where he met an individual who was in need of a new kidney, according to Hicks.
“What happened was, Scotch donated his kidney and he wasn’t an exact match with the individual who he met,” McManus said. “So instead, a person in New York got Mark’s kidney. That was a better match.”
The individual from Natchitoches received his new kidney in March from someone in California, according to McManus.
McManus said this was able to happen because of something called the “voucher program.” If a donor donates an organ with an intended recipient but doesn’t match, that recipient will still get an organ from someone else through the program.
“I had the opportunity to speak with both of them after their procedures,” McManus said. “It’s a really cool story. Scotch is actually cycling from Madison, Wisconsin to Natchitoches as a big endurance ride to raise awareness. Our whole idea behind this campaign was going the extra mile to make life happen.”
The roughly 1,500 mile ride is scheduled to take place from April 24 to May 21. The current plan is for Scotch’s ride to culminate at the Cane River Brewing Company in Natchitoches, which is where he and the person in need of the kidney first met.
Scotch helped lead the charge when it came to creative thinking for the entire campaign, McManus said.
“It’s definitely a unique opportunity, I’ll say that,” McManus said. “[Scotch is] so passionate about it. I think he personally sees the change it can make.”
McManus said it’s instances like this make the project fulfilling.
“It really just goes to show how much change one person can make in another person’s life,” he said. “I think it’s stories like that, which we have had such a privilege to learn about this semester. That has really pushed us forward and has given us a lot of opportunities to work with from a public relations perspective.”
Hicks said that as she did more research, she was shocked at all the myths circulating regarding donating organs.
“We really found out that there are a lot of myths about organ donations that some people still believe today,” she said. “People think that if you’re an organ donor, the doctors won’t work to save you. It’s myths like that which people still think about today.”
The group wanted to make social media posts to help get the word out that old myths like that are not true anymore, according to Hicks.
“We have spoken with people that have donated and have gotten donations from people,” she said. “That was a big thing that they were saying, that so many people believe these myths. I have always been an organ donor and I never questioned it, but it’s really widespread how many people believe in these myths.”
The group hopes to encourage more people to become organ donors by tackling these myths, she said.
While the students have been busy working on their project throughout the semester, they have faced some difficulties.
McManus said that event planning and campaign implementation were tough due to the pandemic.
“We weren’t sure what we were actually going to be able to do,” McManus said. “I’d say it limited us a lot.”
Despite this, he, along with the rest of the group, said that they are happy with the way things went and hope to do more work in the future.
As the end of the semester slowly approaches, the group is working especially hard to do as much promoting as it can.