Spiritual Life

Los Altos United Methodist Church celebrates Changemaker Initiative

Approximately 200 people gathered Jan. 26 to celebrate the first year of the Changemaker Initiative, a 10-month partnership between Los Altos United Methodist Church and the global social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka.

The partnership commenced with 25 Changemaker fellows at the church leading social impact projects, with guidance from Ashoka, in areas they are passionate about.

The partnership between the church and Ashoka was initiated by Rev. Kathi McShane, who had a vision of integrating the fellows’ personal passions for positive social impact with how their faith could play a powerful role in the process. She felt that the long-standing culture of the church, epitomized by its mission – “Touching heaven, changing earth with head, heart and hands” – served as a cornerstone to the program and was critical to its success.

In a recent survey, the overwhelming majority of fellows responded that their faith had grown throughout the initiative, with 84 percent responding that they found new ways to talk about church or their faith.

The Changemaker Initiative, a partnership between Los Altos United Methodist Church and the nonprofit Ashoka, resulted in the following social impact projects.

  • Homeless youth. Fellow Caryn Cranston, founder of My SEEDS Outreach in Palo Alto, aims to end youth homelessness through an outreach program that connects and builds relationships with homeless youth, helping to transition them out of homelessness. Alongside the growth of SEEDS, Cranston launched the Changemaker “Voices Unheard” project to inform and educate about the realities of youth homelessness. In partnership with the Ride Family Foundation, SEEDS received a private donation of $50,000. In addition, with corporate support from PlayStation, which raised $6,300 as part of its “12 Days of Giving” campaign, employees prepared, packed and delivered street outreach supplies to youth living in San Francisco. For more information, visit myseeds.org.
  • Human trafficking. The BUFFALO (Brothers United For Feeling and Leading Openness) Project, offers a new approach to stopping human trafficking through workshops offered for men by men to address toxic masculinity as a root cause of trafficking. The project has grown exponentially in the past months and now has five staff members and two instructors. The organization’s executive director and founder, fellow Corinne Oestreich, has been a guest on four podcasts to discuss the project, and from those opportunities is now in communication with large-scale organizations like the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition to address new forms of combating human trafficking. For more information, visit buffaloproject.org
  • Technology addiction. Teen fellow Moorea Mitchell is tackling the problem of technology addiction impairing relationships in families and communities. After experiencing emotional disconnections among members of her own family due to their overuse of electronic devices, she wanted to instill in others the importance of balancing time between their screens and real people. Mitchell created T-shirts designed to start conversations and build relationships. Youth and community. The Spark Experience – created by fellows Kim Jones, Karen Kehlet and Lisa Conover – launches in June with a camp for middle schoolers that aims to enable youth to develop and exercise life skills and build on passion, purpose and power. Activities will include strength and passion inventories, creativity and teambuilding games, guest youth speakers, design-thinking exercises, a field trip to a local nonprofit organization, researching and taking action on an issue or problem and engaging in a discussion with community leaders. For more information, visit thesparkexperience.webnode.com.
  • Gun safety. The “Say Something” workshop developed by fellow Yvonne Murray teaches people how to help friends, family and co-workers who are at risk of committing suicide or violence to others by equipping them with the tools they need to recognize the signs of risk of violence to themselves or others, to assess what to do when they identify the signs and to take action. Four workshops have already been held in the Bay Area, with more scheduled throughout this year.
  • Seniors. Fellow Bill Bucholz’s Creative Aging program is designed to make the process of aging easier, less stressful and more meaningful by providing information and support, and teaching the skills to face life changes creatively, empowering seniors to grow older gracefully. A daylong workshop on “Staying Healthy – Mind, Body and Spirit” is scheduled for October.
  • Veterans. Fellow Duncan MacVicar, in partnership with another veteran, sought to support veterans incarcerated in California’s state prisons through creating and supporting mental health programs. He identified a successful program at one prison that had not yet scaled to benefit other state prisons. To support and accelerate scaling and reaching more veterans, he joined the board of directors of Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out, the nonprofit organization sponsoring this program.
  • Loneliness. The Loneliness Project: Generosity Cures Loneliness Initiative, started by fellow Angela McConnell, connects organizations representing youth through seniors on the topic of loneliness. She developed the “12 Steps to Lonely No More” guide and shared it with numerous small groups. McConnell, executive director of the Montalvo Arts Center, approached the problem through the lens of the arts, with programming scheduled next fall and throughout the year.

For more on the Changemaker Initiative, visit thechangemakerinitiative.org.

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