A one-day design marathon led and executed largely by Hokies delivered critically needed free marketing materials to 18 area nonprofits.

Over 12 hours, designers and developers at Make a Mark’s Roanoke-Blacksburg Make-a-Thon produced websites, brochures, mobile apps, logos, social media campaigns, and other essentials for nonprofits such as Child Health Investment Partnership, Feeding America Southwest Virginia, Local Colors, New River Family Shelter, NRV Cares, and Rescue Mission of Roanoke.

The event, now in its third year, is the brainchild of Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences alumna and Make a Mark founder Sarah Obenauer.

After graduating in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in communication, Obenauer worked for a nonprofit statewide traffic safety organization and experienced firsthand the desperate need that many nonprofits have for good design and marketing.

Obenauer taught herself design to fill the need for her organization, but then set her sights on helping others.

“At Virginia Tech, I grew deeply as a person, developing my understanding and empathy, my inspiration to lead, and my desire to serve my community,” she said. “I decided there had to be a way to bridge the gap between nonprofits and the creative community and that the best place to start was in our region.”

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Jina Ro, a junior in the School of Visual Arts, and Christopher Klein, a 2011 alumnus of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, work on projects for nonprofit clients in the one-day design marathon.

In 2014, Obenauer launched Make a Mark, building the organization on evenings and weekends while working full-time as a marketing communications specialist at Qualtrax.

Her first design marathon in Blacksburg drew 40 volunteers to help 12 nonprofits. In 2016, it expanded to 15 nonprofits and 80 volunteers.

In 2017, the design volunteers paired up with nonprofit client teams at sponsor Qualtrax’s Blacksburg headquarters on March 25. More than half of the 50 volunteers were students, faculty, and alumni from Virginia Tech.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to create something in the span of 12 hours that will have long-lasting value for a nonprofit in need,” said Kirby Emerson, a junior industrial design major from Seattle who helped revamp social media sites and graphic designs for two nonprofits. “Being able to contribute my design skills as a service to the community is very gratifying.”

Today, Make a Mark is Obenauer’s full-time vocation and has grown well beyond the Make-a-Thon event. The organization offers free training sessions to nonprofits, events in cities throughout the region, and a growing network of sponsors, donors, and mentors — many with Virginia Tech connections. It also runs a nonprofit roundtable, which brings together nonprofit leaders in diverse areas to share challenges and boost impact.

I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to focus on executing on my personal purpose, which is lived out through Make a Mark,” Obenauer said. “My goal in life has been to help people tell their stories through design, creativity, and technology. I’m humbled by the response from the community and especially from my alma mater.”

Written by Marya Barlow