Making “back to school” something special for homeless kids

When Communication Leadership student Tabatha Bennett started working for zulily, a popular Seattle-based ecommerce site, she was impressed by the community partnerships she heard discussed at company “all-hands” meetings.

She learned that zulily holds events that benefit organizations like the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Mary’s Place, a shelter and advocate for homeless families. But in spite of all that great work, Bennett saw something missing: truly compelling storytelling.

She recognized there was an opportunity to share these efforts beyond zulily’s office doors.

But when she approached her supervisors about promoting the company’s good deeds, she got some push-back.

“I really couldn’t get the leadership to ‘buy in,’” she explains. “I think that’s because a lot of people feel like if they volunteer, we shouldn’t be bragging about it.”

It wasn’t until a course with Communication Leadership’s Associate Director Ekin Yasin last spring that Bennett says her aspiration to tell these stories to the public was validated.

The class explored the relationship between storytelling, corporate social responsibility and identity. According to Yasin, a well-formed organizational identity is at the heart of how a company communicates its story and values. Understanding the “who” and the “why” of a business can motivate employees and inspire customer allegiance, but only if the business knows how to share that identity with others.

“Ekin’s message just kept resonating in my head,” Bennett says. “This was the way to go. To tell the story of how we help. But not from zulily’s perspective. We should be telling it from the perspective of the communities that we help.”

Working with her Brand & PR team, Bennett seized on the idea of creating a video narrative around zulily’s Back to School partnership with Mary’s Place.


“I really connected with this project and the families because I grew up in Arkansas, very rural poor,” Bennett explains.

While interviewing the Mary’s Place families, she heard stories of how the kids would often be made fun of at school because their clothes were dirty or old.

She began to strategize how to best drive home that going back to school can be a hard time in some kids’ lives, and how organizations like zulily can make a difference.

“I wanted to make something that would get others to understand and help out,” she says of the project.

Bennett and her team produced a short video that documents zulily’s annual commitment to donating a year’s worth of clothing to every family at Mary’s Place, as well as arranging a special photoshoot that provides each child with a school picture, “something they’ll cherish forever.”

She says that she hopes the video will show other families facing extreme poverty that there are people out there who are struggling, but have been able to overcome it.

“Families need not be ashamed for having a moment in their lives when they needed to ask for help,” Bennett insists, reflecting that she’s had such moments in her own life.

Tabatha Bennett, who just graduated from CommLead, presents in the spring class that inspired her to make the video about zulily’s work with Mary’s Place

Published in July, the video was warmly received by both zulily and Mary’s Place.

“Zulily has asked me to look at more projects like this so we can showcase more of the community involvement that we do,” Bennett reports. “They want to bring to light the challenges faced by the underserved communities of organizations like Ben Towne, the Humane Society and others.”

She also credits the success of her project to values she learned as a Communication Leadership student.

“This program has not only taught me the value of telling a great story, but of making those human connections, and how much more powerful that is then just a commercial, a video or anything else,” Bennett says. “This experience made me understand that when you are in a position to help others out, take it. You never know who you will touch and what greatness they will have and add to the world.”

Department of CommunicationMaking “back to school” something special for homeless kids
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