All for Autism Awareness: Montclair State University PRSSA Hosts PRofessional Development Week

For its annual Autism New Jersey Fundraiser, Montclair State University PRSSA faced a challenge like never before. Over the past eight years, Montclair’s Chapter has raised over $40,000 collectively in donations for the organization. However, this year’s fundraiser would have to be done completely online due to COVID-19. Despite this challenge, the Chapter moved forward and set a goal of $1,000.

Autism New Jersey is a nonprofit organization supporting individuals with autism and their families. Autism Awareness month is in April. The pandemic shifted regular day-to-day life and created a new way of communicating, engaging and connecting with one another. While many of us adjusted well to this routine change, individuals with autism have had a difficult time adapting.

Over the course of two weeks the Chapter leaders met members and Faculty Adviser, Larry Weiner, APR via Zoom to plan the first ever virtual fundraiser for the Chapter, PRofessional Development Week. We pitched the fundraiser to communications professionals who would be interested in hosting workshops dedicated to a specific skill we felt were necessary for members to have.

PRSSA member Joanna Zaccardi says, “Professional Development week provided students of any major the opportunity to connect with and learn from professionals themselves in preparation for the real world. I’m grateful to have been a part of it as a member. It was an amazing experience that I highly recommend for all students.”

Professional Development Week

“Motivation Monday” was dedicated to how to create and maintain a business, hosted by designer Julie Mollo. Mollo talked about everything from the importance of SEO to the power of branding and consistency.

“Tip Tuesday” consisted of writing for the media with Lyndsay Levingston. Levingston connected with the attendees as she described the Do’s and Don’ts for media writing, provided knowledge of writing a press release, and gave great insight on how to build rapport in media relations with no prior experience.

“Wisdom Wednesday” revolved around resume tips and transformation with Julianne Carell. She stressed the importance of making a great first impression when applying for openings in the future and provided students with knowledge of what one’s resume should and should not contain.

“Think about it Thursday” covered financial literacy and business with Kristin Bentz. She described how the PR world intertwines with financial literacy, how to handle future interviews, and left us all with something to think about. Bentz, who is also the Chapter’s Professional Adviser states, “This event was a typical MSU PRSSA event — professional, educational, and FUN. I am so impressed by the ability of this Chapter to create value for their members through the implementation of events like this.”

The week was concluded by “Focus Friday” which explained how to effectively lead a nonprofit organization with Lindsay Stein. Stein showed us the amazing work done all around the world by the nonprofit Today, I’m Brave, and left us all inspired to continue leading with kindness in both our personal and professional endeavors.

We are proud to say that not only did we raise $2,015 over the course of six days (exceeding our goal!), but we also connected students to professionals and other like-minded individuals to broaden their network. Faculty Adviser Larry Wiener APR, whose son is a person with autism, states, “The professional development week our PRSSA students just completed is the culmination of many types of assessments I do about the students in our organization. The success of the Chapter’s event is a testimony to the students who produced it.”

For other Chapters who are looking to host a similar event, keep the importance of good communication within planning, continue reminding yourselves of your goal, and remember to focus on the bigger picture.

We owe the success of this year’s Autism New Jersey fundraiser to the communication between the team, the professionals who dedicated their time, and those who donated in support of individuals with autism.


Gabi Bartnik is currently serving as the 2020–2021 president of Montclair State University PRSSA. She is a senior Communication and Media Arts Major graduating in the Spring of 2021. With an interest in all things media and entertainment, she has garnered experience in research and analytics, digital marketing, public relations, and content creation. During her free time, you can catch her spending time with her many pets, completing puzzles, and listening to the Backstreet Boys. Connect with Gabi on LinkedIn.

Claudia Mesa is currently serving as the 2020–2021 vice president of Montclair State University PRSSA. She is a senior Communication and Media Arts Major graduating in the Spring of 2021. With an interest in beauty and fashion, she is seeking experience in either the field of Public Relations or Marketing to combine her skills with her passion. During her free time, you can catch her working on her online nail business: Mariposa nails, listening to Frank Ocean, and taking photos. Connect with Claudia on LinkedIn.

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