A hospitality management major at Cal State—East Bay, Kaity McGrath opened the winter quarter with an open-ended assignment: conceive and organize a successful event. And initially, she says, she and her classmates were brainstorming along standard lines. A fundraiser for a natural disaster was certainly the farthest thing from their minds. But their thoughts shifted on January 12, when news arrived of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. “We changed gears,” says McGrath. “We all wanted to reach out and help in some way.” She quickly discovered they weren’t alone. An article in the school newspaper alerted McGrath to interest on the part of the Model U.N. organization, and she got connected with that group’s Clarissa Celestino. A clear goal and an alliance across campus groups was a strong start. Now it was time to put thought into action.

A clever idea

But what kind of event would really engage their college-age peers? If there was one thing the group knew, it was that they didn’t want to do a bake sale. “As students, we walk past those every day,” McGrath says. How to break out of the muffin mold? When a classmate chimed in with the idea of something about as un–bake sale as you can get—a tournament on the Nintendo Wii—it was clear they’d found a winner: an interactive gathering that actually reflected how students like to spend their time. Plus, according to McGrath, “we don’t have a huge on-campus student life,” and this party, which they titled “Yes Wii Can For Haiti,” would simply give everyone a great reason to get together.

Something for everyone

It also seemed important to diversify their offerings, making sure those without interest in gaming could still be drawn to the gathering. And the “Yes Wii Can” planners have taken care to balance the event, so that even folks without a booming Wii tennis serve can get excited. Registration will cover music and food, and additional Haiti fundraising will also take place via a raffle for Jay-Z concert tickets.

Connecting with the community

As for promotion, the organizers will be setting up a pre-registration booth a week before the March 4 event. They have also spread the word through Facebook, and have benefited greatly from involvement with a nonprofit collective called Citizen Effect (which we’ll be writing more about soon—stay tuned!). Last, they’ve reached out to local businesses, doing it the old-fashioned way: with cold calls. And they’ve found most places are happy to offer what they can. Says Kaity, “We have a smoothie place that donated four $10 gift certificates for us to use in our raffle. A hotel donated a free night stay. We also have a few businesses donating food for us to serve.” An extremely worthy cause, a unique event that is clever about its demographic, all organized by dynamic area students—who wouldn’t want in on that?