New group is a fundraising force

Recently formed Port-Saukville Ecumenical Youth Ministry turns heads by raising nearly $40,000 to further its cause of benefitting the community

CREATING A GINGERBREAD house at the Christmas party held by the Port Washington Saukville Ecumenical Youth Ministry on Dec. 23 were (from left) Breleigh Smith, Ava Lentz and Aubrey Nelson. The group, which formed earlier this year, is an effort by five area churches to engage students in grades six through 12 in faith formation and community engagement. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

The fledgling Port Washington Saukville Ecumenical Youth Ministry has managed a feat many more established organizations can only hope to achieve.

The group, which has only been in existence for about eight months, raised almost $40,000 at its first fundraiser — an amount that has surprised its officers.

“It’s just amazing. It’s one of those things where we’re all still sitting with our chins on the table saying ‘What?’” President Ray Shupe said. “The generosity of the community is incredible.”

The group raised $39,820 through a series of meals it offered on Nov. 27, aka Giving Tuesday. It had a breakfast at Living Hope Lutheran Church in Saukville, a soup and salad lunch at Parkside United Church of Christ in Saukville and a spaghetti dinner at Grand Avenue United Methodist Church in Port Washington.

A silent auction and craft and gift sale were also held in conjunction with the meals.

Donations and between $12,000 and $13,000 in matching funds from Thrivent Financial helped round out the fundraising.

That’s not bad for a group that didn’t exist a year ago.

The Port Washington Saukville Ecumenical Youth Ministry got its start during a conversation between pastors from five churches — Living Hope and Christ the King Lutheran, Parkside United Church of Christ, Grand Avenue United Methodist and First Congregational, Shupe said.

The idea of a ministry aimed at youths in sixth through 12th grade was quickly embraced, he said, noting that small parishes don’t have the resources and strengths to make such a program happen on their own. 

“It is unique,” said the Rev. Jeff Suddendorf, pastor of First Congregational Church, who noted this is the first time the congregations have worked together in this way. 

One reason it works, Suddendorf said, is “we have a lot in common theologically.”

But, he added, the ministry is open to all youths of all faiths in the area.

The ministry targets middle and high school students because once youths in the churches are confirmed, there are few programs for them, Shupe said. 

Because virtually the youths attend the same middle and high schools, they all know one another, he added.

“This is going to be a ministry. They’re going to be doing community projects,” he said. “But we’re going to do some fun stuff, too. We’re not going to have someone come in to preach at them.”

The effort took hold in the parishes, with a key group forming the core of the ministry, Shupe said. A board of directors consisting of five voting members — the board officials — and five advisory members was formed. Each parish has two representatives on the board.

“That way, no one church or faith can take over things,” Shupe said.

The ministry has gained nonprofit 501(c)3 status, so donations are tax-deductible.

And with a dedicated group of volunteers from the various churches, the Port Washington Saukville Ecumenical Youth Ministry held its first events this fall.

“The whole thing has come together quickly,” Shupe said.

The first event was a September brat fry kickoff that attracted about 75 people, including 16 youths in the target age group.

That was followed up by an October pizza and pumpkin carving event, work at the “trunk or treat” Halloween effort at two parishes and the Giving Tuesday fundraiser. Last weekend, it held a Christmas party for area youths.

Grand Avenue Church has offered the use of its Family Activity Center as a headquarter for the youth ministry, and Shupe said a significant amount of the money raised on Giving Tuesday will go to renovate it into a bright, modern facility with WiFi and other features to attract youths.

“We want to make it safe and inviting for kids so they want to come here,” he said.

The long-term goal is to have the center open after school so students could hang out there, Suddendorf said.

Funds will also be used to hire a part-time youth director for the program to plan activities and programming, Shupe said.

The five churches each put up $2,000 to fund the programs this year, he noted, and have pledged more funds in the future.

“But if we continue to fundraise, we may not need that for long,” he said. “We have an absolutely fantastic foundation of volunteers and experience and now funding.”

Shupe said the group hopes to get its youth director on board by February, adding the director will help set the structure for the group.

The youths will then be asked to pick a nickname for the group, he said.

“The Port Washington Saukville Ecumenical Youth Ministry doesn’t roll off the tongue,” Shupe said.

The youth ministry has come a long way quickly, something the community can celebrate, Suddendorf said.

“It’s not just a vision at this point,” he said. “This is a reality.”


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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