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volunteers scoop fruit into cups at Rosie's Place

WERS and Rosie’s Place: Building Community Through Partnership

Each spring, Emerson’s radio station, 88.9 WERS, gathers dozens of volunteers to serve lunches at Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter in Boston’s South End. We joined the group on a cold, drizzly day in April. Inside, the kitchen was already heating up and bustling with workers and volunteers; guests were lining up in the dining room for the first course of soup. Student DJs sang along to music playing from the kitchen as we cut loaves of bread, stacked plates, and prepared fruit cups. The time passed quickly, and before we knew it, we had served lunch to over 100 women and children.

Afterwards, Emerson sat down with Kevin Cooney, Director of Membership and Individual Giving at WERS, and Ashley Peterson, Membership Coordinator, to talk about the station’s partnership with Rosie’s Place.

Q: How did you first become involved with Rosie’s Place?

Kevin: When I started at WERS three and a half years ago, we were doing two fundraisers a year. I thought that, in order to become sustainable, we really needed to do something else—a fundraiser [for the station] to go beyond what we’d already been doing, because part of what I think makes the station special is giving back to the community. So I thought it would be a cool idea to tie our December fundraiser into volunteering at Rosie’s Place. For every $500 that we raised over the month of December, we donated an hour of service to Rosie’s.

It took about a year to get set up, and it has increased ever since to, essentially, doing a full week of serving lunches. It’s something the students really like to get involved with, and the members especially love it. They get super excited about it—being able to meet people from the station and then go in and volunteer at Rosie’s Place.

Q: So members of WERS can also come volunteer?

Kevin: Members, students, and staff. We call it our community service fundraiser.

Q: How does it work, bringing in a larger organized group to Rosie’s Place?

Kevin: We just tell them that we want to donate 200 hours, for example. Normally we try to donate the time when Rosie’s Place has the biggest need. Around the holidays, people rush to volunteer, and it’s generally filled up—but come February and March, that’s kind of their down cycle and they don’t always have enough people. So we try to volunteer during [those months] in order to help them. This year, however, after the election and everything, there was this huge wave of volunteers who signed up, so we moved it to April.

We also do a lot of public service announcements for them; we promote their Funny Women…Serious Business Fundraising Lunch in the fall, giving them airtime because it’s such a good cause. So they’re very pleased with everything we’ve done, and were pleased to help them—it’s really a win-win for everybody.

Q: What’s the Funny Women…Serious Business Fundraising Lunch?

Ashley: It’s a luncheon and one of their biggest fundraisers. They used to bring in comedians—which is why it was named “Funny Women”—but at some point they switched to hosting authors and just held on to the name. This past October, their guest was Jeannette Walls—the woman who wrote Glass Castle—who came to talk about her life experience. The year before that, it was Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. It’s a really fantastic lunch. They filled the entire ballroom.

As Kevin said, [our partnership with Rosie’s] is a huge win-win, because it’s an opportunity for us to engage with our members and really expand what it means to be a member, while also providing a service that’s very important to Rosie’s Place.

Q: How many people came to volunteer during the week?

Ashley: We had about 15 people a day, and it was heavily staffed by members…so with 75 volunteers, maybe 55-60 members, and some people came twice…we had lots of great support from them. There were a lot of really fantastic people who were brought together by the want to do good, but also a love for music. It’s a really fun group.

Q: What has been the best thing about this partnership for you?

Kevin: One thing that I appreciate is seeing the same people who volunteer year after year. Some people have told me, “I was here when you first started this a few years ago; you know, I’ve come every year,” and I think that’s so cool, that it’s something that people look forward to and listeners know is coming up. So that is something that has been very unique for me, to see those same people come in every year.

Ashley: I think it speaks to the community that we’re trying to grow here at WERS. We definitely see it at Live Music Week as well. People come and volunteer during show[s], answer the phones, and they get to know one another. I think Rosie’s Place has also [helped create this] community.

Kevin: We’ve almost tripled the amount of money that’s donated to the station, in a number of ways, and we’ve more than doubled the number of members (now at 4,400) since I’ve started.

Ashley: During our recent pledge drive, we had over 1,200 individual donors.

Q: What other fun activities does WERS do outside of the studio?

Kevin: We do about four to five different things a year that are kind of external, and we’ve been increasing that. We do a series of concerts called discovery shows for up and coming artists; live performances on site with different bands.

Ashley: We have member parties, and we also do Iceland Calling, which is a big, free show at the Middle East.

Kevin: We have student internships, bringing in students from different local colleges. We [help provide] a reading service for the blind [so they can listen to people reading newspapers] on the radio. We also work with St. Francis House to help them promote their Shooze Cruise every August.

Ashley: We try to be good neighbors and do what we can to promote the arts in different ways, whether it’s with member activities, concerts, or events with different nonprofits.

Q: Is there a good reaction to having the music (at the station) projecting out onto the sidewalk?

Kevin: Oh, yeah. People love it; they sing, they dance.

Ashley: Kids love it! One of our DJs who just graduated was telling me that one of her favorite WERS memories has always been [watching] kids who start dancing, and their moms who have to try keep them going. During pledge drives, we have people giving us thumbs up and cheering us on, people who come in and donate, all sorts of crazy stuff. The Patriots parade was so much fun! It was raining and snowing and we invited members in the studio hallway to watch it.

Q: How does working with Rosie’s Place align with WERS’s mission?

Kevin: The station has been around for almost 68 years, so we consider ourselves a Boston institution. We want to be part of the fabric of the city. That’s one of the best things about working here: people will call and tell us they’ve been listening for 40 years, or 50 years, and it’s crazy to think that something has been here, going strong for that long.

Ashley: I think it’s a good way for us to be involved and it makes a difference. We have an opportunity to do something, and we’re trying to take it.

Q: What would you say for anyone who wants to get involved?

Kevin: The Rosie’s Place fundraiser is in December and then the volunteering generally occurs in February or March, but there are a lot of different opportunities throughout the year to volunteer at the station.

Ashley: The best way to stay up to date is to sign up for our newsletter!

For more information about the WERS and activities they do, visit WERS.org, or sign up for their newsletter.

View photos of one of the volunteer days at Rosie’s Place below.

volunteers at Rosie's Place

Kevin Cooney, Director of Membership and Individual Giving at WERS (left) and volunteers fill fruit cups.

volunteers at Rosie's Place

Two volunteers wipe off tables after the lunch rush.

volunteers at Rosie's Place

Student DJs in the kitchen of Rosie’s Place.

volunteers at Rosie's Place

Volunteers doing lunch prep in the kitchen.

volunteers at Rosie's Place

Ashley Peterson, Membership Coordinator (pictured front row, second from left), Kevin Cooney (front row, middle), and the volunteers celebrate a job well done.