By Karis Rogerson
News Editor

Students in this year’s public relations  class chose to organize a “Protect the Commonwealth” Gala as their class project, the purpose of which is to engage in the real world and raise money for important causes, according to class professor Peter Kerr.

The fall-semester course has been offered since 2004, when Kerr “came up with the concept of doing a large class project that would have real-world impact.” Kerr said, “Student-led projects have raised awareness and donations for the elderly and home-bound, unwed mothers, the homeless and to promote literacy.”

The most successful event to date, Kerr said, “was a dinner and auction for the homeless which raised $2,000 in the first event, but kicked off a yearly ‘Night of Hope’ for the Hope Center, which cares for the homeless in downtown Lexington.” By the third year, Night of Hope raised over $100,000.

Each year, the class elects a “foreman,” or project director; this year’s foreman is junior Rachel Dery. She was elected, she said, after being nominated for the role by her classmates.

“I am the director of this project and the entire class effort,” Dery explained. “The class acts as a company for the semester, and Professor Kerr acts as an external advisor to the class.”

Kerr explained that the professor and students work together to decide on what event they will plan. He said, “I attempt to give as much of the work to the students as possible, and then I act as a consultant, a manager at times and a safety valve in case something goes wrong.” 

Over the years, his experience has taught him that class projects have the best outcome when students have a say in important decision-making. This includes the causes they support, what projects are worked on and who the student leaders will be.

This year’s “Protect the Commonwealth” Gala has two purposes, according to Dery. The first purpose is “to raise awareness of the pertinent issue of predatory gambling in Kentucky because of the vote occurring in state legislature in January.” Another purpose for the event is to partner with Stop Predatory Gambling Kentucky (SPGKY) by raising financial support to fund the organization’s fight. The class is specifically working against slot machine expansion in Kentucky.

SPGKY is the local branch of a national organization dedicated to slowing the progress of predatory gambling. The foundation defines predatory gambling as “the practice of using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit.”

According to the official website, SPGKY’s goal is “to keep Kentucky out of the casino game and educate her citizens about a fairer, higher and more hopeful vision for our commonwealth’s future.”

Kerr explained, “It is estimated that should casino-style gambling be introduced to Kentucky, the poor would lose $1 billion a year to out-of-state casino owners, which the government is supporting in order to generate taxes.” In addition, he said, studies have shown that one to three percent of Kentucky citizens would become addicted to gambling, leading them even deeper into family problems such as bankruptcy, abuse and divorce.

The class project sheet pointed out that the event is not meant to be a statement against gambling; the students believe that moral decisions regarding the pastime are best left up to the individual. However, it added, that “predatory gambling, as a separate category, is rooted in inequality, taking advantage of minorities, the impoverished and the under-served.”

Students in the class had a budget of approximately $1,200 to put towards the event, which will take place Dec. 5 at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Ky. The event was originally planned to take place Nov. 23; however, Cameron Mills, a former University of Kentucky basketball star, has agreed to be the keynote speaker. Dery said, “[Mills] was unavailable to speak on [Nov. 23], so we changed the date to accommodate that.”

The end goal for the gala is to raise awareness of the danger to families, especially poor families, in Kentucky should casino-style gambling be introduced. To that end, the students hope the event will have a good turnout of opinion leaders and influential individuals who can rally against the entrance of predatory gambling into Kentucky.

In addition, Dery said, they “hope to raise funds through donations and our silent auction so that we can donate to SPGKY and help them continue their campaign to protect the poor from predatory gambling interests.”

Both Kerr and Dery recommended that students who are interested in helping this cause visit stoppredatorygambling.org.

To learn more about the non-profit, like them on Facebook at Stop Predatory Gambling Kentucky and follow them @SPGKY.