Adventist Academy in Montana Stands to Gain $500,000 for Needed Repairs
Mount Ellis Academy is number 10 of 20 “Kohl’s Cares” Facebook voting winners
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
A small Seventh-day Adventist boarding school in a remote part of the United States vaulted from relative obscurity to become an online sensation. Having come in at number 10 among the top-20 vote getters in a Facebook competition sponsored by Kohl’s, a department store chain, Mount Ellis Academy of Bozeman, Montana, stands to gain $500,000 to make needed repairs to a decades-old plumbing system.
“The sewer system doesn’t meet codes in terms of [its] separation from ground water,” said Darren Wilkins, an alumnus of the school who is now its principal. “And drain fields have a lifespan. We are under scrutiny by our state department of environmental quality, and they have let us know we are on borrowed time. If there’s a major failure, [the school] could be shut down until the system is reconstructed.”
As Wilkins and academy development director Kevin Emmerson were praying about ways to raise the $500,000 estimated to repair the aging system, the Facebook contest came to their attention. Facebook is an online “social network” which boasts an estimated 500 million members worldwide, including tens of thousands of Seventh-day Adventist Church members.
MOUNT ELLIS CAMPUS: With nearby Mount Baldy rising in the background, the campus of Mount Ellis Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist boarding high school in Bozeman, Montana, is shown in springtime. The school, which was established in 1902, is one of 20 to be named winners of $500,000 "Kohl's Cares" grants, pending verification by the department store chain's charitable arm. [Photo: MEA]
“I think Mount Ellis finishing where they finished in this Kohl’s contest is a wonderful thing for this school,” said Pastor Dan Jackson, North American Division president. “I’m delighted that people pulled [together] to support one of our academies. It’s great!”
Mount Ellis became one of the schools in contention, and faculty, students, parents, friends and others began reaching out to garner online “votes” for the academy. By the end of the competition, the school received 144,006 ballots, putting it in tenth place.
“Kohl’s congratulates all participants in the $10 million Kohl’s Cares Contest,” said Vicki Shamion, Kohl's senior vice president, public relations and community relations, in a statement provided to Adventist Review. “The top 20 vote-getting schools and each school’s proposed programs are currently being verified by a third-party partner to ensure school submissions and budgets comply with contest terms and conditions. Once verified, all winners will be announced.”
Wilkins said he expects Mount Ellis’ project to meet the Kohl’s standards: “I know that our project fits within their parameters, and I know we will have absolutely no problem providing them with any documentation they need. We have a fully engineered plan ready to go.”
What made the project exciting, Wilkins said, was the way in which the Seventh-day Adventist family in North America pulled together to help the 65-student boarding academy. Though removed from Mount Ellis by hundreds of miles, California-based Rio Lindo and Monterey Bay Academies and Idaho-based Gem State, “opened up their alumni lists” to the Mount Ellis campaign, Wilkins said.
Another school in the North Pacific Union, the Upper Columbia Academy, or UCA, was also in contention, but finished out of the top 20. Wilkins said he “can’t say enough good about” the rival institution, which encouraged its supporters to also vote for Mount Ellis in the waning hours of the effort. (The online campaign gave registered participants a total of 20 votes; a maximum of five could be dedicated to a given school.)
The enthusiasm with which North American Adventists embraced the campaign touched Wilkins: “Something absolutely unique happened in our church,” he said, noting that congregations in Calimesa, California and the Loma Linda University Church, also in California, were among those to boost the campaign.
“To see our school community mature through the process, and to not have our faith hinge on getting what we wanted, was a pretty rewarding thing,” Wilkins added.