A Farewell to 2020

I knew 2020 was going to be an epic year -- I just didn't know the extent of it.

Your Central Ohio PRSA chapter kicked off its 70th anniversary year with top-quality programming, strategic planning and visiting our PRSSA chapters. We were preparing for a new, two-track conference in March and PaRtners, our annual student event in April. After completing one of the biggest projects of my career, the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion at Nationwide Children's Hospital, I was packing my bags to London for rest and relaxation on March 10. My famous last words to the PRSA Board were, "email me if you need me." Then I added with a laugh, "But I really hope you don't need me."

Little did I know that in between my flight from JFK to Heathrow the governor had started shutting down Ohio. On calls with Past President Alicia Shoults and President-Elect Diane Hurd, we started talking about canceling our in-person events for the unforeseeable future and what that would mean. On my flight, I thought this would mean change for the next month or so and started formulating a plan. And then as the news continued to unfold and I scrambled to get a flight back to the United States, I knew we needed a much bigger plan.

The Board and committees were nimble and resilient, stepping up to handle any curveballs. We pivoted all of our programs to a virtual format, including PRism Awards and our ambitious two-track conference. We worked hard to stay connected to our members.

Then we watched the appalling events leading to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other members of our Black community, including the recent tragic death of Casey Goodson, Jr. We worked with our colleagues in the East Central District to make a statement that we resolve to do our best as advocates to bring truth to power, act always with justice, and to commit ourselves to an essential role in combating systemic racism.

And we put words into action. We took steps to recognize the individuals and organizations that are inclusive and proactive leaders in the area of diversity and inclusion (D&I) by establishing D&I criteria for our PRism Awards, along with a specific award recognizing this important initiative. We held programming to educate our members on implicit bias and how we can implement change in our organizations. I'm proud of our work to change our bylaws to include a permanent Diversity & Inclusion Officer position on our Board, which will be held by Shanikka Flinn, our Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair. Based on their work this year, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee received an honorable mention from PRSA National, totaling three honorable mentions since 2016.

Now I can't believe this whirlwind year is coming to a close. I am so proud of the additional accomplishments of the chapter as a result of our incredibly talented and dedicated group of volunteers. Just to name a few:

  • Monthly programming, transitioned virtually, featuring women in PR, anti-racism, COVID, the election, ethics and more – 13 total
  • Focused on raising awareness about D&I and programs that feature speakers who represent diverse backgrounds
  • Created a comprehensive list of resources about racial matters, including racism, anti-racism and Black Lives Matters 
  • Submitted bylaws change to create a permanent position on our Board of Directors: Diversity & Inclusion Officer

  • Virtual conference with 2 tracks and 80+ attendees

  • Virtual PRism Awards with more than 150 attendees

  • Scholarship Fund:

    • 6 PRSSA dues funded
    • 3 students to attend conference
    • 1 student to attend PRSA ICON
    • 1 young professional received COVID-19 scholarship to pay for dues
  • PRSSA Leadership Rally and programming for students
  • Biweekly newsletter, private Facebook group, blog and podcast 
  • Central Ohio on the National scene:
    • Featured in PRSA Strategies and Tactics
    • Panelist at National PRSA Leadership Rally
    • Speaker at East Central District Best Practice 
    • Members presented at PRSA Section Conferences and at ICON
    • Alisa Agozzino, APR, named ECD Platinum Award Winner
    • Honorable Mention, Diversity & Inclusion Awards
    • PRSSA Hall of Fame Award

I hope you've benefited from our services this year -- and I know there are many great things to come. The future of the chapter is bright with the leadership of the extraordinary Diane Hurd taking the helm as president and incoming President-Elect Heather Sheppard, along with a team of dedicated board members. I want to thank the leadership of our former board members, Alicia Shoults, Lois Foreman-Wernet, PhD, APR, Courtney Tobin, Kerry Francis and Heather Clark as they end their Board service and our Board members who are continuing to serve: Kristen Vitartas, Michael Vannest, APR, Tara Parsell, Serena Smith, Alisa Agozzino, PhD, APR, Jennifer Rieman, Wendy Schwantes and delegates John Palmer, APR, and Natalie Kompa, EdD, APR.

Serving as your president this year has been one of the highlights of my career and an experience I will never forget. I've loved getting to know many of you through (virtual) coffee chats, meeting our talented students, speaking at the chapters and working with the Board on important initiatives. I hope I've been able to make changes that will positively impact this chapter. Because of our volunteers' amazing commitment, I can say that Central Ohio PRSA is a national model for other PRSA chapters in the United States.  

I urge you to help strengthen the voice of our profession by volunteering on a committee. It's a wonderful way to grow your leadership skills and meet some of the best communications professionals in central Ohio.

Again, I thank you so much for this opportunity. I wish you peace and joy this holiday season.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Katie Thomas, APR 
[email protected]

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