Pastor Patrick Graham is director of the Allegheny East Conference Department of Youth Ministries, and he might have a fix for Mt. Vernon Academy’s financial woes. Might. The solution depends less on Graham himself, and more on the generosity of the Adventist public and their belief in Mt. Vernon’s value and viability as a school.
As I reported on January 11, the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted to require Mt. Vernon, the oldest Adventist boarding academy still in operation, to raise $3 million by March 10, or begin taking steps to cease operations. The conference’s decision followed a long period of insolvency and mismanagement that saw the school go far into debt without the ability to make payroll. $3 million is the cost of one year of operation at Mt. Vernon.
The day after the story broke, Pastor Graham posted a Facebook comment on the article with a link to a crowdfunding site called Faith Partners. The website is similar to funding websites Kickstarter and GoFundMe, and provides funding for specific causes–helping young Seventh-day Adventists pay for Adventist schooling, for instance. Pastor Graham founded Faith Partners with his wife in 2014. The startup’s “About Us” page describes Faith Partners as “a full suite of self-service crowdfunding solutions for non-profits, reward, and completely custom crowdfunding solutions. Our mission is to empower people to easily and affordably create and manage their own crowdfunding projects.”
I exchanged messages with Graham to find out more about Faith Partners and the role it might play reviving Mt. Vernon Academy.
Faith Partners distinguished itself from other crowdfunding sites by specifically targeting the faith-based community, Graham told me. “We utilize social networking as an integral part of our marketing to attract potential donors to the campaigns of individuals or organizations wishing to raise funds for various faith-based endeavors and projects.” The site came into being when its creators saw a need for a unique funding site that would centralize faith-based giving and provide easy access to donors looking for faith-based projects.
“We were also looking for a way to support Christian education, particularly for the developmentally- and learning-disabled, and we intend to donate a portion of the proceeds towards this cause,” Graham said.
I asked Graham how Faith Partners corresponds with the work he does as Youth Director in Allegheny East. “As part of my ministry, I do my best to provide financial support for our youth in Christian Education,” he said. That happens through fundraising, scholarships, summer jobs and internships. “I am receiving an increasing number of requests for financial help in this area and have also received overwhelming support from the Christian community when I ask for donations for scholarships.”
Graham noted that he has always had projects outside of his hired position that he enjoys, “and while FaithPartners is a separate entity from my hired position, its also difficult to be in ministry and see a need and not try to do something about it,” he said.
I asked Graham what he would hope to see happen in the case of Mt. Vernon Academy. “I am not privy to the details of Mt. Vernon Academy’s current financial standing,” he began, “but when I was made aware that yet another Adventist School and one of the few remaining Adventist boarding schools could potentially close and was in desperate need of funding, then I knew that Faith Partners was a perfect medium to spread the word and see what we could do to provide funding.”
Oftentimes, schools are thought of as buildings and administration, Graham added, but taking into account the future of the students attending the school is the more significant consideration. “I do hope that the administration would use the funding to ensure that the school is back on a firm footing and able to continue operating,” Graham said.
Faith Partners takes 5% of proceeds as a usage fee, as is common for crowdfunding wites. In the case of Mt. Vernon Academy, Graham says that Faith Partners will use the customary 5% to provide tuition assistance for Pine Forge Academy, an Adventist boarding academy in the Allegheny East Conference. That means 100% of the money raised would benefit Seventh-day Adventist secondary education. Graham reiterated that outside of this campaign, Faith Partners donates to developmentally- and learning-disabled students within Christian Education.
“I am a firm believer in Christian Education within our Adventist Church,” Graham said. “I teach the Triangle–Church, Home, and School. There are no guarantees that our youth will stay in the fold because of the triangle, but it sure sets the probability higher. Our schools are closing for many reasons… I have my gripe with many of our processes concerning education. Those gripes, however, will never supersede the principle.”
So can the Faith Partners crowdfunding campaign save Mt. Vernon Academy from closing? As of the publication of this article, two donors have pledged $425, with 57 days remaining in the campaign. Even if the campaign goes viral and generates tremendous buzz and support, saving Mt. Vernon seems a long shot right now. Then again, saving the academy from closing is as feasible as the Adventist community decides it will be. The resources exist; the question is whether the will to prop up the school exists in equal measure.
Those who would like to give to the Faith Partners campaign to raise $3 million for Mt. Vernon Academy can do so here.
Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.