Petersburg City and Schools Partnership My Createathon experience

The Story

The Petersburg City and Schools Partnership (PCSP) was born in September 2015 to combat an attendance issue in the Petersburg City School System.

"To create the climate and conditions for every child to succeed by providing a sustainable, coordinated system of supports and access"

This is the mission of the Petersburg City and Schools Partnership. It is a coalition of United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg, Petersburg City Schools (PBCS), local and state government agencies, service providers and community groups including nonprofit and religious organizations. They have come together to ensure that students arrive to school ready to learn.

There are 5 designated areas of importance that influence a child’s ability to get in school and stay there.

School Culture

Providing positive systems of social and emotional support so they come to school ready to learn


Improving the access of high-quality health care for the children of Petersburg


Giving students and families the opportunity to engage in out-of-school resources and programs.


Ensuring access for Petersburg families to healthy food year-round


Helping the community identify homeless or at-risk students and stabilizing their families

This young organization has a solid history of HUGE accomplishments with great impact.

Petersburg City Public Schools became a Summer Food Service Program and served over 54,000 meals to students during the summers of 2016 and 2017

500 students accessed the YMCA, library, and public transit at no cost in the 2016 and 2017 summers

3 social workers were hired to address chronic absenteeism and received 133 referrals since January

300 community members and 70 students participated in a summit called “Beyond ACEs: Building Community Resilience” to train Petersburg staff, citizens, and youth on trauma and resiliency

A pilot program has been launched to address high school seniors at risk of being homeless

Pretty great organization, right?

Yeah, we know.

The only problem is that the Partnership has been so busy creating a stable support system for every Petersburg family that they haven’t had time to build a brand to spread their message:

The whole community has an essential role to play in the growth and development of its young people.

Our job was to create a brand for PCSP so everyone involved knows who they are, what they do, and how they do it.

The Steps

There’s a lot of preparation necessary to get ready for a 24-hour creative marathon.

As a team leader, I was expected to drive the creative process with research, discovery, and strategy that defined and refined the project.

I was enrolled in a service learning course that put me in the role of the account manager.

Critical conversations with the client were compacted into the form of a creative brief, which was the springboard for the magic that came after.

Weeks of research, hours of planning and a couple of client meetings all led up to the 24-hour CreateAthon: a pro-bono advertising effort established to benefit nonprofits like the Petersburg City and Schools Partnership. There were sodas and snacks, professional mentors, interesting activities and a super cute dog: everything a team of college-aged creatives needed to succeed.

infographic from: https://news.vcu.edu/article/At_CreateAthon_VCU_students_provide_free_creative_marketing_and

Meet the Team

Malcolm: Team Leader

  • Provided strategy, vision and creative direction
  • Promoted positivity and encouragement
  • Brought a bag of apples

Kayleigh: Strategist

  • Former CreateAthon Team Leader
  • Knew exactly what to do
  • 5 steps ahead, at least

Bayley: Art Director

  • Extremely capable designer
  • Logos, branding, mockups
  • 57 artboards. Fifty seven.

Michael: Copywriter

  • Wordsmith-- no, a word wizard
  • Much needed comedic relief
  • Took copious, creative notes

Peyton and Sue: CEOs, Creative and Strategic Directors

These two wonderful women were the backbone of this entire effort. They taught the class, coordinated countless meetings, helped all of us team leaders with everything from case studies to client emails to cold classrooms.

The Process

Once we had our team together, we had a lot of work to do. We started with the Partnership's mission and vision. What do they do? How do they do it? What do they value? How can we communicate their passion and purpose?

We posted paper on all of the walls of our creative dungeon and walked around, writing the words that came to our minds when we thought of health, recreation, nutrition, housing and culture.

We found that the same words kept popping up: support, stability, and success.

We took these ideas and ran, moving from the verbal to the visual, but this transition introduced new problems: what does support look like? Stability?? Success???

Since the organization had no brand to begin with, we had nothing to build on. All we knew was that we needed to keep Petersburg at the center of it all, since the city's schoolchildren are the reason for the season.

We wanted to find a way to show the communal organization and all the components that come together to make it work. What we came up with worked perfectly.

The Solutions

This is the Petersburg City and Schools Partnership.

We developed a brand identity that spoke to the coalition's community roots while incorporating each of the 5 key areas: school culture, health, extracurricular activities, nutrition and housing.

We chose deliverables that not only promoted the brand but also have functionality so that they could be used by students, parents, and community members alike.

A pin for a professional's lapel.
Some super slick pens for signing and such.
A drawstring bag to hold school supplies and snacks.

The Reflection

This was an eye opening experience. Working with a community partner allowed me to see firsthand the impact that this line of work can have. This organization is made up of people who are used to having a positive effect other people's lives, but together my team and I were able to impact the impact makers. This is how I can help the community: with my critical thinking, my creativity, and my leadership. Creating a face, voice and brand for this organization to speak through and live in changed the way that they see themselves. Now they are more equipped to provide stability and support in the name of success.

At the end of the event, my team and I exited the room where we presented to the client. We could barely stand due to lack of rest. We looked at each other with sleep and pride in our eyes. We made it through 24 hours of intense creative effort and came out on the other side with some really cool stuff for a really good cause. And we didn't die! It all happened just like Peyton said it would.

"It always works out. Every single time. No matter what.”

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