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UCM Students’ RISE Puzzle Palettes Project Enhances Autism Awareness

By Jeff Murphy, April 22, 2021

RISE Puzzle Palette Project
Individuals who were part of the “Puzzle Palettes” project that raised more than $1,500 to benefit RISE Community Services in Warrensburg hold a piece of a ribbon that was part of a Chamber of Commerce ceremony to celebrate a new mural in downtown Warrensburg. Taking part, from left, were Keira Solon, assistant professor in the School of business Strategy at the University of Central Missouri and faculty advisor to the Advanced Events Marketing and Management course; Solon’s students, R.J. Appleberry, Caitlyn Harrison, Sarah Eddington, Kevione (Kaye) Scott, Isabel Anderson; and Bri Henderson, communications director for RISE. 

WARRENSBURG, MO – With assistance by University of Central Missouri students, an alley that intersects with Pine Street that has become a colorful jewel in the heart of Warrensburg’s downtown area has a new addition. It is not only bound to attract the attention of passersby, but will remind them of the opportunity to support people affected with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASP).


The new mural, comprised of many hand-painted tiles and arranged in the shape of a ribbon, was installed and celebrated during Autism Awareness Month. A Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting event on April 20 highlighted this cooperative project that involved students and a faculty member from UCM’s Advanced Events Marketing and Management course in the Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies and RISE Community Services in Warrensburg. Warrensburg Main Street also assisted with this project that will have a long-term impact on the local community.  


“Our goal was to raise money and awareness, and I hope we have lived up to our expectations,” said R.J. Appleberry, a UCM marketing student from Lee’s Summit who is part of the class taught by Keira Solon, assistant professor in the School of Business Strategy.


Through the project, titled Puzzle Palettes, Appleberry and four other classmates contributed to downtown beautification but also raised more than $1,500 for RISE to assist individuals with ASP. While doing so, they gained valuable events marketing and management experience that will help them in their professional careers. The project began during the fall 2020 semester, and continued through this spring.


“Last semester, we were in the regular Events Marketing Class. We gave informal pitches and then that was turned into formal proposals and our client (RISE) selected the one they wanted in December,” Appleberry said. “So, we came back this semester, in January, and we just hit the ground running in planning, organizing and executing the event. Here we are today with the actual ribbon cutting.”


He said the group’s vision was to create a piece of art – a mosaic that resembled the red, yellow, and two-tone blue autism ribbon. The ribbon is designed with a puzzle pattern that reflects the complexity of the autism spectrum. Its different colors and shapes signify the diverse individuals affected by autism.


To meet the group’s goal, Solon said her students conducted a total of 10 small events. This included selling 174 paint kits, paint-kit assembly with RISE members, five pick-up events, hosting a virtual paint-a-long for 60 individuals, and mural construction. Proceeds from the tiles that were sold and painted provided the funds to benefit RISE and the individuals it serves.


“In addition to planning and executing the event, the students also managed all of the event marketing. Using their Facebook and Instagram pages, they gained over 150 followers and kept the community up-to-date on their efforts. This social media also featured bios of the RISE members and the members of the class,” according to Solon.


“Working closely with leadership from RISE Community Services and Warrensburg Main Street, the advanced events management students gained a comprehensive education in Events Marketing and Management and made a lasting impact on their local community,” Solon noted.


She added, “These students were completely amazing. They worked harder than I could have ever hoped for. Every single day, every single class period, every single task, they executed beyond my expectations. They are outstanding individuals and each is a leader in their own right.”


One of Solon’s students, Kevione (Kaye) Scott, a senior from Kansas City, said she values the experience Puzzle Palettes has given her in preparation for a career in event planning. Now, she has a better understanding of all the components that are needed to make an event a success.


“This was more than one event – realizing that there are multiple parts of an event will help me when I start my career,” she said.


Other students agree. This includes Isabel Anderson, a first-semester senior from Arkansas, who said the opportunity to learn through courses such as Events Management and Marketing are among primary reasons she came to UCM. Her involvement in Puzzle Palettes enabled her to put classroom learning into practice.


“My role was as the community relations leader,” she said. “One thing I took away from it is the importance of communication, not only within our group, but also communicating with our client.  It is a big skill I will take away from this and put toward my profession in the future.”


A UCM student from Eldon who will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, Bri Henderson is already getting real-life experience as the communications director for RISE. She took over working with Solon’s class this spring after the previous communications director left the position.


“RISE got the benefit of this amazing event. I am incredibly thankful for all the hard work that they have done,” she said in talking about the UCM students’ efforts. “They raised over $1,500 toward our autism program. The program allows individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) to get funding, whether it’s for a sensory blanket or other equipment they may need. It’s open to anyone in the community who has autism.”


During the ribbon-cutting event, Misty Miller, executive director of RISE, shared her observations about the process that led up to the celebration of the new mural.


“Just behind the scenes, knowing that you guys collectively did this,” she said in talking about the Advanced Events Marketing and Management Class, “I am just so very impressed, and we are blessed at RISE that you chose us. This is something that the community will continue to celebrate as they walk down here, and people will continue to be aware of autism, not just this month, but always.”


In her comments wrapping up the ribbon cutting, Chamber of Commerce member Suzy Latare, who is also a UCM staff member, captured the spirit of cooperation that took place among all the individuals who made the event possible. She also praised the opportunity for community residents to contribute their own artwork to be on permanent display.


“This kind of collaboration is very exciting - students coming together for the community as artists, and really recognizing that everybody is an artist,” she said. “It doesn’t take a special person to be an artist, but every person is a special kind of artist, and it is really amazing to see that proven here.” 


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