UU Church of Greater Naples, Florida: International Engagement
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples (UUCGN) has developed a model relationship with Heifer International, whose mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the earth. It began as a social justice component to the congregation’s annual intergenerational “Secret Pals” program. The “Secret Pals” participated in Heifer’s “Read to Feed” program and raised approximately $250.
But the congregation’s commitment to the work of Heifer International was only beginning. During the summer of that year Religious Education participants designed “quarter poles” of various lengths that would be filled and ultimately sent to Heifer. Through the Fall this project raised another $350-$400.
At Thanksgiving time, the Religious Education program decided to build on the foundation that had already been laid. They implemented a “gifting program” in which people who donated to a particular Heifer project received a letter of recognition designed by the Religious Education kids, as well as a decorated ornament. Generosity towards the program was overwhelming, with one couple donating nearly $2000.
As the winter holiday’s approached, interest continued to grow. The congregation’s director of religious education decided to integrate Heifer’s ideas into the annual Religious Education service on the Sunday before Christmas. The service was based upon Debra Frasier’s well known story, “On the Day you were Born." During the service people were invited to reflect upon and share the importance of the gifts which they bring to the world. Each of the Sunday School classes dressed up as Heifer animals, each carrying a sign with a picture of a donated animal on one side, and their own baby picture on the other side. Children’s and parents reflections on the gifts that they bring to the world, and the importance of interdependence were poignant and inspiring. During that service the congregation announced that it had exceeded its fundraising goal of $5000 and that it would contribute an entire “Gift Ark” through Heifer International. Local representatives of Heifer International came to the church and presented it with an award for their important work.
Alongside these highlighted moments in UUCGN’s engagement with Heifer International it’s important to mention educational moments that occurred. The entire program was framed by a peace and justice curriculum for the religious education program that included modules concerning the relationship between world peace and inner peace, the importance of community, and environmental justice.
UUCGN is a mid-size congregation (262 members) on the gulf coast of Florida. Much of the organization of the congregation’s involvement with Heifer International was designed by longtime Religious Education volunteer, Juliet Araujo, and their Director of Religious Education, Jennifer Dant.