With huge excitement and anticipation, I have the privilege of announcing the recipient of UUCF’s Innovation Fund grant. Last Tuesday night, after a 9-month review process, the UUCF Board of Directors approved a proposal for a UUCF-sponsored, off-campus effort targeted to young adults (20s and 30s). The mission would be to help Northern Virginia young adults explore and live UU values in an intentional community. The proposal is a joint effort by Betsy Bicknell and Wendy Astell.
In a generous bequest, the late Stan Richards provided seed financing for innovative projects that expand UUCF’s outreach to those not now engaged in our congregation and/or Unitarian Universalism. Last summer, the Innovation Fund Committee asked the congregation for big ideas … dramatic new thoughts … high-risk, high-payoff experiments … approaches that might open up new ways of thinking about outreach and growing Unitarian Universalism. Many wonderful proposals were received and from two finalists, this proposal was chosen.
Focused in a deliberately non-church-like storefront space easily accessed by walkers and public transit and coordinated by a young adult UU minister, this project will support development of deep community through arts, conversation, learning and working together for social justice. It would also support people moving through life transitions by offering classes and workshops on topics of interest, support groups, spiritual counseling and rites of passage to those who may have no other religious home. Although studies are showing that many young people are not interested in traditional organized religion, they are interested in community, finding purpose, accountability, observing rites of passage and working for social justice – providing opportunities to share our UU values.
The approved proposal includes more than a year of planning and outreach to evaluate interest and the best location, hiring of a part-time UU minister to serve as project manager, followed by a yearlong pilot of the concept in a leased storefront-type space providing a small office and meeting space. If the pilot does not meet the attendance, revenue and other goals established during the planning process, the project would stop at the end of the 1-year lease. If the pilot is successful, other sources of revenue may be required until it becomes self-sustaining. Stan Richards’ bequest also allows for the high possibility of failure in undertaking innovative ideas. In that event, lessons learned will be written up and shared as widely as possible for the benefit of others interested in this concept.
The first steps of the project are forming a committee of five to eight volunteers to provide vision and oversight. Committee members will include several UUs, at least one with background in local retail and/or hospitality business and two or more in the target age group who are active in local community groups that serve their peers. The committee will manage the market research process and develop detailed business and ministerial hiring plans. If you are interested in serving on this committee, please contact Betsy Bicknell or Wendy Astell.
In a month when we have focused on Risk, it seems particularly fitting to acknowledge the risk Wendy and Betsy took in proposing this highly innovative concept. They are committed to growing Unitarian Universalism and to filling a need in our community.
We’re grateful they took the risk and grateful for the generous funding that Stan’s bequest makes possible.