Room in the Inn Berea is a community effort built upon the goodwill of the city of Berea, Kentucky. Built from nothing, the program was up and running within two months of the initial interest sessions. Drawing from other RITI models, including the original in Nashville, Tennessee, this program served the homeless population by coordinating inns and innkeepers to serve their rotating homeless shelter model as well as other community volunteers to provide three meals a day and other community resources. The first order of business was developing a recognizable brand while differentiating themselves from other local initiatives. Creating and amplifying social media channels and cultivating a consistent network of on-call supporters and volunteers on and offline was imperative in the program’s sustainability.
Given that the main focus was meant to be very community-focused, it was important to pinpoint which social media outlets would be necessary for cultivating regular audiences and dispensing immediate-need calls to action. Given that most of the community’s population is known to be on Facebook and that most entities utilize it as well, this seemed like the most logical solution for organizing. The organizers’ networks were leveraged, and community influencers were used to share the page within large groups full of community thought leaders. Social posts promoted community events and emphasized important donations, such as those for large food orders from local restaurants or vaccination drives from the health department, and they also asked for help filling in holes in their volunteer sheets with kind and uplifting language. Through “WE can do it”-type language, the tone of the page was set.
Accurate reporting was kept through innkeeper and registration materials that allowed on-the-ground volunteers to fill in the specific information. This allowed RITI to track their progress and dispense it to the community, one that I might add loves facts and politics. To combat rumors, such as that the program enabled drug users to continue using, volunteers kept careful track of their nightly stats and took note of testimonials that could promote the program.
The program also made appearances and updated the progress on their work through news appearances, city council meetings, and letters to the editor.
Media Relations + Publicity
We leveraged the founders’ network to gain press and media coverage. The initial push was to give the public an understanding of the program and the inner workings of it, emphasize community involvement, and establish the need for specific donations and partnership. Then, a small round of publicity was pushed for the mid-season report, delivered at a city council meeting. Finally, the last round of press for the season pushed the final impact of the program, the excitement for next year, and the needs that the community can be working to fill. This annual reporting will ensure that the program seems trustworthy and sustainable, keeping people engaged for the next season and hopefully allowing the program to expand.