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by Jill Sarber

The country of Haiti and its people are struggling to survive, and rebuild after a devastating earthquake shattered buildings and lives.

Tragic and heroic stories alike continue to surface days and weeks after the devastation first occurred. These stories focus on the plight of the people of Haiti, but also on the overwhelming generosity from people around the world who decided to be a part of the relief and reconstruction effort in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

When a natural disaster strikes, it is the quick, mobilized response that truly helps to minimize the impact of the disaster. Within 48 hours, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) established a joint earthquake relief fund to immediately alleviate suffering in Haiti and address long-term issues as well. Unitarian Universalists (UUs), along with other like-hearted and concerned individuals, worked together to provide emotional and financial support to this effort.

In our own Pacific Central District (PCD), Cilla Raughley, PCD executive for over 6 years, and her husband, Andrew Johnson, wanted to encourage local congregations to raise funds for Haiti.

They offered to personally donate $15 to the UUSC for each congregation in the PCD that took a special Sunday collection for Haiti earthquake relief. With 38 congregations in the district, that totals a generous single contribution of $570 to the UUSC out of Raughley and Johnson’s own pockets.

Raughley and Johnson are no strangers to generosity. For over 10 years, they have tithed or given away 10 percent of their annual income to worthy and just causes.

Raughley said, “It is a blessing you give the world when you put someone else’s needs before your own.”

Over 26 congregations responded to this unique giving incentive.  Many of them are taking a special Sunday collection and finding other ways to get involved. The First Unitarian Church of Oakland donated their Sunday collection and will host a benefit concert with all proceeds going to the aid effort.

Congregations of all sizes are providing critical relief to the people of Haiti. After learning of Raughley’s incentive and an opportunity to support the Haiti relief effort through an organization that shares their values like the UUSC, the UU Community of Lake County (UUCLC) of Kelseyville, CA, a congregation of fewer than 50 individuals, donated $1,000 from their budget to the UUSC/UUA Joint Earthquake Relief Fund.

After taking a special Sunday collection for Haiti relief, UUCLC board members decided that they were able to do even more by giving some of the money allocated for charitable donations in their annual budget to this effort. After a vote, the majority of the board felt that “yes” they would be able to give this generous gift to the UUSC at this time.

Carol Cole-Lewis, board president of UUCLC, said, “As individuals, we were inspired to do something, but we realized, together, we would be able to do even more—our people responded from their hearts and from a sense of calling to do what was right.”

UUCLC has also been a consistent Fair Share congregation. Why is it important to this church and its congregants to exhibit the spirit of generosity year after year?

According to Cole-Lewis, “Generosity is our connection to God, and by giving, we recognize that we are all connected.”

Unitarian Universalists everywhere responded with love and generosity to the disaster in Haiti and collectively have donated more than $1,400,000 to date to aid in the relief effort.

“One of the reasons I’m proud to be a UU is that we are a group of people that walk our talk—we live our faith everyday, and in times of need, we step up,” said Raughley.

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