Regina teacher, students promote free hugs for non-profit

A Saskatchewan Polytechnic teacher and his students are selling T-shirts to learn about marketing and social enterprise. All proceeds go to Carmichael Outreach. Donations to the non-profit drop dramatically in the summertime.

Marketing teacher Jeph Maystruck shares social enterprise with students

Jeph Maystruck says his students came up with the vibrant design, but he's not opposed to it because if you're walking down the street with a free hugs T-shirt on, all of Regina should be able to see you. (Uplifting T-shirts)

A Regina teacher and his Saskatchewan Polytechnic marketing students are giving back to the community. 

Teacher Jeph Maystruck has made social enterprise a priority in his curriculum. He and his students have created a T-shirt company called Uplifting T-shirts. 

They sell shirts for $30 dollars each, and all the proceeds go towards the local non-profit organization Carmichael Outreach. 

The organization is on the frontline of mental illness, poverty, addictions and homelessness in Regina. 

"We sold 60 T-shirts in seven days," Maystruck said.  "All I said was, 'What if we had longer?'" 

The project proved students could successfully run a business, but it also proved they could do something meaningful, he said. 

From concept to community 

Uplifting T-shirts is in its second year. 

At the start of the semester, Maystruck raises the idea and students take it from there. 
The Uplifting T-shirts project has been an amazing learning experience for himself and the students, Jeph Maystruck said. (CBC)

They learn practical skills from proposal to design to marketing to customer service. Students experience failures and "break some rules" along the way. 

Maystruck said the approach ensures students retain what they learn. 

"Forget the theory, throw them under the fire and watch them learn," he said.

"The second you empower somebody, it is the greatest thing in the world."

This year's shirts are bright pink, have a teddy bear on the front and offer free hugs. Last year's said, "Kindness is contagious, pass it on."

Shift to social enterprise 

Maystruck said business isn't just about profit anymore. 

"When you read business books at the end of the book it says 'but none of this matters unless you give back,' and so for the last five years I've been pulling out my hair — literally — saying business doesn't work unless you give back."

Last year, the design of the Uplifting Tshirts was a bit more reserved than the bright pink design of this year. However, the core message was the same. (Uplifting Tshirts)

Maystruck had Tyler Gray from Carmichael Outreach speak to his class about social enterprise. 

People respond differently to a T-shirt fundraiser than they do to us asking for money,- Tyler Gray, Carmichael Outreach

"You could see the lights turn on," Maystruck said.

According to Maystruck, the students were captivated by the idea that they could make money by giving back to the community. 

That's why the kids chose to partner with the non-profit. 

Summer season hardest time for non-profits​

Gray, interim executive director of Carmichael Outreach, said contributions are always helpful, but they are particularly so in the summer because donations drop dramatically in the warmer months. 

"People respond differently to a T-shirt fundraiser than they do to us asking for money," he said. 

Gray said it's always helpful when businesses generate revenue for the non-profit, and it doesn't matter if it's a $15,000 donation or one the price of a T-shirt.

"It's a way to get the community connected to the conversation around homelessness, addictions, mental illness, poverty," he said, noting that projects like this help change the narrative around those issues. 

Tyler Gray has worked with Carmichael Outreach for three years. He says it helps foster community engagement when they can establish connections with external businesses and people. (CBC)

Gray has worked with the non-profit for three years and has seen a steady increase in demand for its services. 

"Our meal program went from 37,000 meals the first year I was here, and this year we're on pace for a little over 60,000," he said. 

The housing program has also grown, not only in number but in the complexity of the issues, he said. 

"You really do see those numbers increasing year over year and you really see the challenges that a lot of people face that I think kind of get hidden."