By Rick Wolcott*
Laity and clergy, working together, exceeded the goal of raising and collecting $1.5 million in support of the East Ohio Conference Teach • Reach • Bless campaign. The funds will be used to build a new residence hall that will house 90 female students on the campus of Africa University in Zimbabwe. By generously supporting the East Ohio Conference Teach • Reach • Bless campaign, donors showed their commitment to improving the education and wellness of women today for a better Africa tomorrow.
In her Episcopal Address during Annual Conference 2019, Bishop Tracy S. Malone shared her vision of raising money to build the new residence hall on the campus of Africa University (AU) so that female students would have a safe, supportive environment in which to live and study. Increasing enrollment and a lack of on-campus housing at AU means some students currently commute from remote areas to find affordable off-campus housing, putting female students at risk of living in and being subjected to untenable situations.
“When God gives you a vision, God will make the necessary provisions for it to become a reality. This is evidenced by the embracing of the vision and by the financial support of the laity and clergy of the East Ohio Conference. It is truly remarkable that we have reached our goal of raising $1.5 million. We have collected the monies and are now ready to break ground. I thank God for the gift of the vision, and I celebrate the bold and courageous generosity of the clergy and churches, especially in these challenging times,” Malone said.
Six weeks after the January 2020 launch of the three-year Teach • Reach • Bless campaign the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Ohio. The focus of church leaders then quickly shifted to finding ways to worship remotely and to reach out to their communities in new ways – but their commitment to the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign did not waver. By the end of 2020, donors had contributed $518,868 to the campaign, and had made commitments of future payments totaling more than the needed $1.5 million, to be paid by the scheduled end of the campaign in December 2022.
Receiving the financial commitments during the midst of a pandemic was a joy to celebrate but beginning construction on the residence hall had to wait. That’s because of a long-standing well-thought-out policy of Africa University to not break ground for construction of campus buildings until all monies needed to complete the project are in-hand.
Aware of the policy, long-time AU supporters the Rev. Bill and Marty McFadden offered a very generous challenge gift in January 2021. The gift would provide the campaign with a $1 match for every $3 collected from any source in 2021, with the goal of having the full $1.5 million by the end of the year so that ground could be broken for the new residence hall in early 2022 – a year earlier than planned. The $736,241 collected in 2021 generated a $245,414 matching gift. Rev. and Mrs. McFadden then contributed an additional $4,586 to bring their total challenge gift to $250,000. The campaign donations spurred on by the challenge gift brought the total amount of funds collected by the end of December 2021 to $1,505,109.
“I thank the thousands of donors who individually and through their churches made gifts that will enable us to begin construction of a dorm for female students at Africa University a year sooner than expected,” said Rev. McFadden, co-chair of the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign. “Marty joins me in expressing gratitude for all who responded to our challenge. We want for female students at Africa University the same safe and secure environment and college experience that was possible for our daughters and granddaughters.”
Campaign Co-Chair Dr. Maggie Jackson chaired the Buildings and Grounds Committee when she served on the Africa University board of directors. She knows first-hand the impact that generous donors can have on the lives of AU students.
“We thank God for the people of East Ohio for your generosity in contributing to the completion of the campaign. We treasure every gift given. You were awesome!” Jackson said. “You have proven again to be devoted to helping others. In years to come, your gift will help to ensure safe living quarters for women students. To God be the glory.”
While the goal of raising and collecting $1.5 million dollars has been met in two years – and construction will soon begin – one year remains in the three-year campaign. Donors who made commitments to be paid-out over three years are encouraged to honor those commitments, and those who still wish to contribute to the campaign can do so. Funds remaining after the residence hall has been built will support women’s empowerment initiatives to be created in partnership between the East Ohio Conference and the Zimbabwe Conference of The United Methodist Church. Information about making donations online or via the U.S. mail is posted on the Teach • Reach • Bless pages of the Conference website, www.eocumc.com/teachreachbless.
The Teach • Reach • Bless campaign was a collaborative effort of Bishop Malone, the campaign committee co-chaired by Dr. Jackson and Rev. McFadden, the Africa University Development office, Africa University leadership, East Ohio Conference leadership and staff, and local church clergy and laity. Working together they created, shared, and utilized downloadable video, print, and online resources, VBS curriculum, and Saturation Sunday worship services to promote the campaign. Those resources were shared throughout the Conference, across The United Methodist Church and beyond, thanks to the increase of online worship services because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A hearty ‘thank-you’ to Bishop Malone, the co-chairs of the campaign committee, as well as all of the members on going over the top in that $1.5 million campaign to assist Africa University with the female dormitory, and not only going over the top but completing that dormitory campaign 12 months in advance of the original timeline – and especially during a pandemic,” said Mr. James Salley, associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement & president/CEO of AU Tennessee, Inc. “The East Ohio Conference leads in a number of areas with Africa University. That includes apportionments, endowed scholarships, building buildings. In all of those areas East Ohio has been a premier conference for Africa University and it just shows what the people of God can do by the grace of God if they put God first.”
“The success of the Teach • Reach • Bless campaign is a witness to our connectedness as United Methodists who have proved that when we do something together results are achieved that few acting alone can do,” said McFadden.
Salley said not only will the campaign benefit AU students it will make a statement across Zimbabwe and beyond.
“We are an international university and when the word gets out that you have people who make the kind of commitment that East Ohio has made then that transcends countries and even the entire continent of Africa,” he said. “What East Ohio is doing is not only significant for the students it gives them inspiration and helps them understand that they are not walking this higher education journey on their own but there’s someone who is walking this particular journey with them, and it inspires students to do their best.”
Africa University offers its more than 3,000 students from nearly 30 different countries opportunities to earn degrees from three different programs: the College of Health, Agriculture and Natural Sciences; the College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance; and the College of Social Sciences, Theology, Humanities and Education. Salley reports that because of the soon-to-be-built new residence hall for female students – who currently comprise 56% of the student body – more female students will be able to live on campus.
“With the growing number of female students attending Africa University, this residence hall will provide more female students with a safe environment to live in and a supportive community to be a part of as they pursue their studies,” Malone offered.
With the needed $1.5 million collected, the campaign transitions to the building phase. Jackson shared that a building committee has been established consisting of representatives from the East Ohio Conference and from Africa University. She said a project manager has agreed to oversee the construction and plans are being made to break ground for the new residence hall.
“We look forward to having a strong delegation from the East Ohio Conference come and dedicate that building,” Salley said. “A ground-breaking ceremony, whether it’s virtual or otherwise, will happen very soon.”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.