Well, we knew last spring when we proposed the Welcome Project that it would be an adventure, and it sure has been. Most of you have heard the story of how this project began as a proposal to replace the 40-year-old sign at the corner of Charlotte St. and Edwin Pl. And once we got started talking we decided, hey, maybe this is the time to do the work on our main building that we’ve been waiting forever to do: provide more room for Sunday morning greeting so Sandburg Hall doesn’t feel so crowded and make our Sanctuary more accessible to people with mobility concerns while upgrading our sound and lighting there.
It wasn’t hard to draw up the plans. We knew what we wanted. But raising the money, we knew, would be a challenge. Then, in walked Larry Wheeler and Nancy Heath who proposed that we do a combined operating-capital drive and, even better, that they co-lead it. Knowing their skills – Larry is a former UUA fund-raising consultant and Nancy has years of prior church work – we recognized a windfall when we saw one. We said, Yes! You all know that the campaign was conducted, but what few people know is the incredible dedication that so many people gave to it. Some 165 members of the congregation participated in organizing people, making calls, following up, spreading the word. From where I sit, let me tell you it was a thing of beauty to behold.
Of course, we had surprises along the way: from the positive side, the generous contribution and challenge from Darwin & Myra Smith; on the negative side, the rapid decline and death of Stephen Jones, who together with his wife, Suzanne, were the campaign’s honorary co-chairs. Beyond his role, Stephen’s energy, enthusiasm, and deep caring for the congregation were and continue to be sorely missed.
Our $750,000 goal frankly looked like a big lift, but from early in the campaign the generosity of this congregation was amazing and it stayed that way throughout, so that when it finally ended we could break ground being able to say that we did it. Then, as you know, came another terrible surprise. We learned that our lowest bid was $200,000 over our budget. We had set our budget based on what turned out at the time to be a depressed construction industry. What a difference a year makes!
Knowing how much energy had gone into the campaign and how people had stretched to reach our goal, we looked for changes we could make in the proposal to keep us within our budget. What we called the “South Foyer” seemed like the simplest piece to remove. But when we brought that proposal to the Board of Trustees, board members insisted that we make one more effort to find money to cover the overages.
They pointed out that people were attached to the project, that we had some funds available, and they predicted that members would increase their giving to cover the gap. Project coordinator Bob Roepnack had already negotiated with the contractor to reduce the overage to $150,000. We proposed taking $50,000 from existing funds and asking congregation members for another $100,000. And you came through: more than 40 members have contributed more than $90,000 over our initial goal. We still have hopes of reaching that $100,000.
In my latest report to the Board I described this series of events with the old saw about getting lemons and making lemonade. What that saying argues is that with creativity and grit people can take something negative and turn it around to their advantage. And that’s true of us. Not only did we respond well to the challenge presented to us, but we used it as an opportunity to unite and work together for a project that we clearly believe in. How great now to see the construction getting under way and knowing what we have to look forward to. Thank you all so much for helping to make this happen, for all your hard work and your incredible generosity. This sweet lemonade!