SAN JOSE, CALIF. – The lack of freebies from the Bethel College booth at the Mennonite Church USA convention July 2-6 didn’t stop high school students from returning each day and encouraging their fellow youth group members to come with them.
“The Bethel booth is where it’s at!” Lizzie Shelly of Lenexa wrote in the exhibit guestbook.
For starters, the exhibit was built to look like a construction site. Staff members had put together metal scaffolding with a platform on top. Nail aprons and tool belts hung on the paint-spattered scaffold, with hard hats, small coolers and other construction site necessities on the platform.
Next to the scaffold was a wire-mesh container for ticket stubs that the youth put there each of the convention’s four full days. The number of tickets returned equaled the number of dollars (up to $1,000) to be given to one of three designated charitable organizations in the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference area. The youth group of the person whose name was drawn on the fourth day will get to choose the recipient project or agency.
The display area had a different canvas each day for “donors” to sign. The canvases will be given to the four organizations that receive the money. The amount was based on a budget for what would otherwise have been spent on promotional trinkets.
Before the convention, its builders – staff from Bethel’s Admissions, Alumni and Church Relations Offices – set up the booth in the college library lounge so that other staff and faculty members could see it. “We had great camaraderie and fun putting it together [both at Bethel and in San Jose],” said Dave Linscheid, director of Alumni Relations.
The idea for a different approach to attracting high school students to Bethel’s booth, and perhaps to Bethel College, was born at the end of the 2005 MC USA convention in Charlotte, N.C., said Dale Schrag, director of Church Relations. As they were traveling home, several Bethel staff members discussed ways to end the “giveaway arms race,” as Vice President for Admissions Allan Bartel put it, being conducted by the Mennonite colleges at the national conventions.
“It seemed to us that encouraging youth to add to their stash of stuff goes against everything that is taught during the week of convention, about giving instead of getting,” Schrag said.
This year, Bethel’s booth emphasized service instead of consumerism.
Before the convention, Bethel admissions counselors mailed tickets to Mennonite youth groups. Each ticket had four colored tabs, one for each day, Tuesday through Friday, and for each service agency that would benefit from Bethel’s new approach to giveaways.
Bethel also asked youth groups to send photos of themselves doing service projects. These, along with Bethel photos, were projected onto two screens at the San Jose exhibit.
Three organizations located in the Pacific Southwest (the convention host conference) region were selected as recipients of the money. Linscheid added that the college deliberately chose small organizations to receive the grants.
Hopi Mission School, established in 1951 in Kykotsmovi, Ariz., serves children in kindergarten through sixth grade. It depends on volunteer teachers. Bethel admissions counselor Lowell Wyse worked there one year under the auspices of Mennonite Voluntary Service.
Mennonite Urban Corps in Los Angeles places new college graduates in the city to explore the impact of urban life on their career choices, lifestyles and faith.
Goldensun Peace Ministries of Glendale, Ariz., has a mission of intentional community-building between volunteers and adult residents with developmental and other disabilities.
The youth group (51 strong) from Harrisonburg (Va.) Mennonite Church won the ticket drawing on the convention’s fourth and final full day. Mennonite Education Agency Executive Director Carlos Romero drew the winning stub Friday night.
The wall-sized canvases covered with donors’ names will be presented to the organizations along with checks for at least $1,000. The number of tickets returned means Bethel will donate $1,000 to each agency along with extra cash donations that convention attenders deposited in the raffle drum.
Anyone who visited the Bethel exhibit was invited to write comments in a guestbook. Some of these included: “Thank you for a way to live what we say”; “I much prefer this to getting a bunch of JUNK I’ll throw away when I get home”; “I like that you’re donating money instead of using it for promotional purposes”; “It’s cool to get stuff, but it’s so awesome to do God’s work in this way”; “Way 2 Go! Your mission rocks.”
Bethel’s booth provided “a way to get the name ‘Bethel College’ in people’s heads,” said admissions counselor Hope Greiser, adding that Bethel wants to attract students who will be a good fit.
The booth seems to have helped Bethel with those goals. “This is a good part of the Bethel profile,” wrote Vern Rempel, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Denver.
“The booth was very well received by students, youth sponsors and other adults,” Linscheid said. “People are very pleased this has gone against that [materialistic] trend.”
“It’s awesome. I so want to go to Bethel College in two years now!!!” one young person wrote.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.