Vancouver Canucks give MBA social media project warm reception

Nov 24, 2011

The following was originally published in the North Shore Outlook newspaper on September 23, 2011.

By Maria Spitale-Leisk – North Shore Outlook
Published: November 23, 2011 12:00 PM
Updated: November 23, 2011 12:41 PM

Photo: North Van MBA student Alannah Cervenko chats to Vancouver Canucks players Robert Luongo and Sami Salo about her class project: developing a social media strategy for The Dugout, a DTES drop-in centre.

Hockey fever does not discriminate. To borrow a catchphrase from the Vancouver Canucks’ marketing campaign, “We are all Canucks”.

North Vancouver resident Alannah Cervenko caught the Canucks bug during the team’s 1994 Stanley Cup playoff run. A cardboard cutout of fan favourite Trevor Lindenwas a mainstay in her childhood bedroom.

It was a chronic condition that lasted throughout high school, university and her early 20s. The start of the 2010/2011 NHL season was when things crescendoed for Cervenko: her professional hockey player cousin Victor Oreskovich had just been traded to the Vancouver Canucks.

“I enjoyed watching him in the playoffs last season,” says Cervenko from her home in Lynn Valley. “It was very exciting for my family to have that connection to the Canucks.”

She has held onto a souvenir from Vancouver’s second close call at winning the Stanley Cup — the iconic white towel. The orca-stamped textile was displayed across a chair in her living room all summer.

Last week, when Cervenko was invited by a friend to a private “Cocktails with the Canucks” function in downtown Vancouver, she hastily grabbed her playoff towel on her way out the door not knowing what to expect of the event.

In the back of her mind, she had big plans for the white space on the towel. A Simon Fraser University MBA student, Cervenko needed some star power for a social media project.

The assignment: partner with a local non-profit and create a social media strategy with the objective of raising financial support or awareness for this organization. Cervenko and her group chose The Dugout — a drop-in centre on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that hosts one of the longest-running Alcoholics Anonymous programs in Vancouver.

“The reason I thought about The Dugout was because in the 1970s and ’80s it would stay open late so that their clients could have a warm and safe place to watch the Canucks games,” says Cervenko. “But because of a lack of funding they don’t have the resources to stay open late anymore.”

Roberto Luongo and Sami Salo were the first Canucks she met at the function.

“Roberto gave me a big grin and they both introduced themselves,” she recalls.

Kevin Bieksa teased her about plugging a baseball-related organization to a bunch of hockey players. She gave him a history lesson, telling him the dugout was a Second World War reference. It was a safe haven for soldiers to take refuge from the enemy.

Cervenko says all of the Canucks she canvassed for signatures had never heard of the Downtown Eastside ‘Dugout’, but they were curious, asked questions and happily signed her towel.

“You consistently hear about how the Canucks are such a friendly, warm group of players and it could not be more true,” she says.

When Cervenko visited the The Dugout back on Nov. 8, by 7 a.m. there was already a line of people stretching around the block — and many cups of hot chicken-vegetable soup had already been served.

“It’s in a surprisingly nice area, on the outskirts of Gastown,” she says.

Developers wanted to buy the building that houses The Dugout, but the City of Vancouver thwarted their redevelopment plans by buying the property themselves and charging the tenants a nominal rent, she explains.

Many of the drop-in centre’s clients are either homeless or live in Single Room Occupancies on the Downtown Eastside. They share a community ‘living room’ at The Dugout where they can access social resources, emotional support or simply watch TV.

Cervenko hung out in the living room with some of the clients and talked to them about their lives.

“A few grew up on the North Shore and had a childhood very similar to mine,” she says. “These experiences make you realize how fortunate you are and how often people of different walks of life have more in common with you than you realize.”

When Cervenko first looked into The Dugout, she discovered they had no website or branding. She had to go to three different websites to find the address, telephone number and a description of their services. Today, The Dugout has their own online presence — a website and Facebook page built by Cervenko and her dad for the class project.

And anyone who makes a donation on the website ( before Dec. 1 will have a chance to win that coveted autographed Canucks towel.

“Even five dollar helps,” says Cervenko. “Instead of getting a Starbucks coffee, give that money to The Dugout. That’s what I ask my friends.”

The project is worth 10 per cent of her final grade in her marketing class; however, Cervenko is confident that it has already taught her an invaluable life lesson about compassion.

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