By Lauren Miers
Martin Leathers takes the phrase “skin in the game” literally. The Gathering Students Pastor said for $10,000 he would shave the beard he had been growing for three years.
Every fall since 2018, The Gathering Students youth group has aimed to raise $10,000-$12,000 to provide a well to a community in Mozambique. They’ve come close in years past but never raised more than $7,000. In fall 2020, the most unlikely of years, they met their goal, raising $10,700 for the Mozambique Initiative in just four short months. Leathers had committed to shaving his beard only if they hit the mark, so in early February he did, sharing the process with the group via YouTube video.
The students’ efforts are less a story of the power of wacky incentives and more a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of youth on a mission.
“It’s a really cool testimony to the ways that the Spirit can inspire people and when that happens the creative ways it gets lived out,” Leathers says.
Students at The Gathering offered what they had to hit the $10,000 goal. For some that was skipping a Frappuchino and donating the $5 instead. Other students put their unique skills to work and started businesses on Instagram to raise money for the cause.
Sadie Moore, a 17-year-old high school junior, started a card business, Smoore Designs, on Instagram. She sold hand-drawn cards for $5 each and donated $1 per card to the Mozambique fund. The cards had Thanksgiving and Christmas themes, but the business went so well she decided to continue creating cards and offered Valentine’s Day designs.
“Whenever someone started their own business or came up with their own way to raise money for the well, Martin would lift it up during Core Group,” Moore says. “He kept encouraging us and gave us a whole list of creative things we could do to reach the goal.”
The creativity of her peers inspired tenth-grader Amelia Alonzo to start a face mask business on Instagram to help meet the $10,000 goal. Before deciding to sell masks, Alonzo didn’t know much about sewing. Her grandmother taught her how and helped her to produce masks. Alonzo says the masks both impacted people in her community by helping prevent COVID-19, and the funds created change in Mozambique. At the end of the fall her efforts had raised over $600 for the fresh water well.
“Students have a lot of creative ideas, so I think that they can pull something off to make it possible to raise money,” Alonzo says.
Another fundraising idea came from a pair of high school seniors. They approached Leathers about hosting a holiday drive-in movie in the church parking lot. The Gathering handled the inflatable screen rental and movie licensing for two screenings, Elf and The Grinch. Students invited family and friends and served popcorn and hot chocolate. Leathers says they had attendees that had no relation to the church and were just excited for the drive-in movie.
Through their collective creativity and persistence, students at The Gathering did what many find surprising. The power of students who get behind a cause is often underestimated.
Leathers says it’s easier to think it’s impossible for youth to raise money than it is to lean into the potential. If they care about where the money is going, teenagers are willing to offer what they have.
Moore says that Leathers got personal and invited students with skills to imagine a unique way they could help the group reach the goal. He put his beard on the line, made it fun and provided concrete examples of small things every student ministry member could do to contribute.
“In my experience with teenagers, they’re generous, selfless and more attuned to making a difference in the world than I have been in a long time,” Leathers says. “Come meet some of my students, and I’ll tell you what creativity and generosity looks like.”