Call it the power of social media.
The evening before Upper Columbia Academy began registration for fall classes, the school’s alumni and development director, Linnea Torkelsen, looked at a list of students who needed financial aid to enroll and was surprised to see a long column of 20 names.
She quickly got onto Facebook and posted an urgent appeal for help.
Less than four days later, alumni and friends of the Seventh-day Adventist boarding school in the U.S. state of Washington had pledged the required $65,000 and all 20 teens had been accepted for classes.
“I stand in awe of our big God and the partners He has,” an astonished Torkelsen wrote in a follow-up post on Facebook.
The lightning social media campaign may well mark a first in Adventist education. Kind-hearted donors have stepped forward to provide millions of dollars in financial aid since the church started to build its worldwide education system in the 1870s. Just this past year, a group of anonymous donors contributed $2 million in scholarships and debt relief to church schools in the Oregon Conference.
But school fundraising is in its infancy on social media.
Upper Columbia Academy, which has about 240 students, most of whom live in dormitories, keeps a special list of students who would like to receive an Adventist education but cannot afford it for various reasons. The “Waiting for a Miracle” list is what Torkelsen saw on the evening of Aug. 21, hours before registration opened at 8 a.m. the next day.
She rushed to her Facebook page and pleaded with alumni for a miracle.
“There are TWENTY kids who are on the 'Waiting for a Miracle' list,” she wrote. “Total financial miracle needed is $65,000 that must be committed before they can move into the dorm. Two families are waiting by the phone to see if we get the funds. Several are coming on faith and waiting outside the business office to be told if they can register.”
For the next two days, she sat glued to her telephone and computer, updating the total amount of funds raised as alumni challenged one another, made matching pledges, and invited friends to get involved.
The entire $65,000 was raised by the evening of Aug. 24.
“As of 5 p.m. this evening — 44 hours after we began — we have reached our goal of $65,000," Torkelsen wrote on Facebook. “Thank you for your prayers, for encouraging others to give, for giving sacrificially yourselves, and for caring about making it possible for God's kids to have a superb Adventist education at Upper Columbia Academy!”
Torkelsen said in an interview that she was astonished at the outpouring of support that she witnessed through social media.
"It was exciting to see the energy this Facebook blitz generated,” she said.
She said she appreciated the comments that people posted on her page and especially liked one from a young alumna who promised to donate on a monthly basis to help a student because she had been on the same “Waiting for a Miracle” list a few years earlier.
Prayers by students, teachers, and alumni also may have played a key role in the success of the fundraiser. Each student at Upper Columbia Academy receives a “volunteer prayer guardian” who commits to pray for him or her regularly. The ministry, called Prayer PATCH, was created by Sue Patzer when her husband, Jere, was president of the Adventist Church’s Upper Columbia Conference, whose territory includes the academy. It has continued for more than 20 years. Some prayer warriors choose to remain anonymous, while others reach out and make connections with students that last for years.
Academy principal John Winslow expressed his appreciation to the donors who helped the 20 students enroll for the 2015-16 school year.
“We know our parents willingly sacrifice to have their child attend UCA, and we take that responsibility seriously,”Winslow said. “We have a wonderful staff totally dedicated to enriching each student physically, mentally and spiritually, and we consider each one family.”