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CURRENT ISSUE:  June 11, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
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Parishioners at St. Augustine aid others, learn about themselves
 
Father Mark Wiesner opens the envelope containing
the returns for the reverse collection at a parish party
after the evening Mass on Pentecost.
CHRISTINE SCHRECK PHOTO

On the first Sunday of Lent, Rev. Mark Wiesner surprised parishioners at St. Augustine Church in Oakland by inviting them to take home envelopes with cash. Their mission was to multiply that gift — $20 to $100 — to help raise funds to build a new dormitory for an orphanage in Kenya.

Ninety days later, at Pentecost, they returned considerably fatter envelopes. As of June 5, the total raised — over and above the $12,100 distributed in the reverse collection — stood at $70,952.62.

Along the way, the parishioners tested their talents, pooled resources with people they didn't know well, and found themselves spreading the good news of their parish.

The cost of building the dormitory — the parish's original goal — is estimated at $65,000. The additional cost of furnishing it could be about $7,000. Estimates on the costs of linens and mosquito netting have been requested.

The original investment in that reverse collection — $12,100 — has been returned to the parish.

Parishioners gathered for a potluck dinner after the evening Pentecost Mass May 27 to hear the results of the fundraising efforts, and to share their stories of how they turned a few dollars into many.

After a raffle and both Hawaiian and Tahitian dance performances, Father Wiesner opened an envelope with the word "Kenya" written across it. The number he announced — $73,495, which included the original $12,100 — drew cheers from the gathering.

"What do you say after that?" he asked, "Thank you. Thank God. We're going to make a difference forever. Children's lives will be changed because of what you do here."

Benefit concert
for the Kenya Project

Who: Rawn Harbor, African-America liturgist and musician
What: Concert of African-American Gospel Music
When: 4 p.m. July 15
Where: St. Augustine Church, 400 Alcatraz Ave., Oakland
And: Free-will offering will be taken up to support the Kenya Project
 
 
But in changing the lives of children half a world away, the parishioners may have succeeded in making some changes closer to home.

The parish is putting together a Board of Directors for the Kenya Project, bringing together "people who are passionate about the project to continue to develop the relationship between St. Augustine and the Tonga Parish Mission Orphanage," said Father Wiesner.

The Kenya Project will remain at St. Augustine after Father Wiesner moves to St. Charles Borromeo Church in Livermore to become pastor on Sept. 1.

The success of the reverse collection and parish engagement has been a boost for the Oakland parish.

"I knew we would make money," said Father Wiesner, whose research into reverse collections showed that most tripled the money received. He figured they would gather between $30,000 and $40,000 and "from there, figure out what to do next. I didn't think we'd reach the goal."

The benefits to the parishioners have been many, said Father Wiesner. "People have discovered they could do all kinds of things," he said, noting the coming together of people in small groups to accomplish their goals.

The Kenya Project has also created some unexpected evangelists. "They're proud of their church and excited to invite people to participate," he said.

The reverse collection was meaningful for parishioners who told him they were surprised, and pleased, that they were handed an envelope.

"It means a lot to people to know we trust them," he said.



What some parishioners did

1. Make soap. Everybody uses soap, concluded Anne Black as she considered what to make with the $100 in her envelope. She rejected cookies (not everybody eats sugar) and candles (flammability issues). But with soap, Black was on to something. She made bars of soap in various colors and shapes and sold them for $1 or $2 apiece at the parish's artisan fair on Easter, and contacted teachers in Catholic schools, who welcomed the opportunity to be part of the Kenya project. "I amazed myself," she told the gathering. "I was so grateful to be part of this project." Her return: $800.

2. Have fun. Debbie Berndt's envelope had $20; her husband got $20; and their 8-year-son Ethan got $20. Ethan's idea of a good time/fundraiser was the Kenya Karnival. Taking advantage of a minimum school day, he invited friends to an afternoon of games and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Parents of friends responded enthusiastically, and asked if siblings could come along, too. The profit: $413.


3. Dance, if you get the chance. An eighth-grader at St. Elizabeth Elementary School, who is a parishioner at St. Augustine, asked the student council to sponsor a Charity Ball. With the go-ahead from Principal Sister Rose Marie Hennessy, OP, the student council raised money for a DJ and invited neighboring Catholic school seventh- and eighth-graders. The student council made a video about the orphanage to illustrate how the $5-per-student admission fee would be used. "We have great kids and wonderful parents," Sister Rose Marie said. "We try to help teach them to be leaders in the community and make change for good." The change added up to $700.


4. Make it sweet. Maybe this works best at a video game company, but Andy Hartzel invested the $25 in candy bars. He resold it at work, putting out the candy and a sign telling about the parish's Kenya Project ending with: If you dislike AIDS orphans in Africa, continue to patronize the vending machines. He asked his employer if he could invest his candy profits in a pay-what-you-will barbecue, but the company paid for the barbecue, with donations going to the Kenya Project. Between candy and barbecue, his return: $1,575.


5. Put on a show. Parishioner and actress Elizabeth Durand staged a performance of "Love Letters" in her home theater, donating the night's proceeds. The box office: $1,379.


6. Put on another show. Actor Dan Cawthorn donated a performance of the one-man show "Damien." In the interest of full disclosure, in an introduction, Father Wiesner told the theater-goers that the original goal had been reached. Still, they gave $1,300.


7. Tell a neighbor. Pastoral associate Karen Miller, caught up in the fever of the moment, told a neighbor about the Kenya Project. He washed cars for three months, and handed a grateful and surprised Miller $650. Beyond that, she told the church on June 2: "He was so moved by your generosity that it has brought him back to a life of faith."

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