National Capital Chapter

Mary’s Center and PRSA NCC’s Pro Bono Committee: A Strong Partnership and Labor of Love

L-R Pro Bono Committee members Bonnie Piper, Mary’s Center Vice President of Communications Lyda Vanegas, Jane Tobler, Gabrielle Arrington and Carol Wilkerson at the Mary’s Center Gala in 2018.

By Jane Tobler and Bonnie Piper

Since 2018, PRSA NCC’s Pro Bono Committee has worked with Mary’s Center, a D.C.-based nonprofit community health center that holistically approaches well-being for residents, families and children regardless of their background or immigration status, to provide media training, social media analysis, messaging and crisis issues management support. 

Mary’s Center staff developed a Social Change Model that combines healthcare with social services, workforce development and educational resources. Operating this way enables  Mary’s Center to offer not only medical, dental and behavioral health services for the entire family, but social services and family literacy programs as well. Mary’s Center has grown throughout the District and Maryland to serve more than 60,000 people from more than 50 countries at five health clinics and two senior wellness centers.

Once we began working with Mary’s Center, our committee members discovered more opportunities to assist Mary’s Center achieve specific goals. Committee members provided strategic ideas and counsel for storytelling about Mary’s Center’s work, media relationship tips, partnership outreach ideas with external stakeholder groups, guidance on various ways to leverage social media and content strategy to further amplify Mary’s Center’s earned media. 

Media training was so popular with Mary’s Center’s senior leadership that we’ll be conducting a second round later this year. The committee will also help to craft messages based on the 2019 study conducted by the Urban Institute on Mary’s Center’s Social Change Model as a blueprint for other health systems. 

In addition to the standard strategic communications management, planning and counsel, committee members stepped up in crunch times to help with additional projects.  

In 2018 and 2019, committee members donned their fancy clothes for Mary’s Center’s popular annual gala to provide social media support and event production. The pandemic forced the gala online in 2020 and the pro bono committee provided its same stellar support virtually.

Natalie Lopez is checked by pediatrician Dr. Marlorle Stinfil, associate medical director of the Georgia Avenue Clinic.

Mary’s Center’s Social Change Model holistic approach to public health may have made them better prepared than other nonprofits to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having a bench of PR professionals on call and a crisis communications plan already in the works gave them a leg up in their pandemic response. 

“Having the benefit of the Pro Bono Committee’s knowledge and expertise in crisis management gave me fresh thinking and valuable suggestions to use,” explained Lyda Vanegas, Mary’s Center’s vice president of marketing and communications. “This has been a whirlwind time and this team has helped us accomplish so much! It’s like having a steady hand at my back.” 

Monthly meetings have allowed the committee to help plan future outreach, give counsel and provide guidance to Mary’s Center on late-breaking items. Throughout this sometimes turbulent period, committee members built a strong bond with each other and with the Mary’s Center’s leadership.

There is still plenty of work to support the strategic communications of Mary’s Center and, though virtual, the team is still rolling up their sleeves to jump in. Find out how you can support Mary’s Center by following the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

If you would like to learn more about our Pro Bono Committee or get involved, please visit our committees page.