By Sandy Wood
A small Lutheran school with a huge Lutheran spirit beat out more than 6,800 schools across the nation to win $100,000 from U.S. Cellular.
Central Lutheran School in Newhall, Iowa, learned on Feb. 11 that it was one of 10 schools this year receiving the award.
Iowa Governor Chet Culver and U.S. Cellular CEO John E. Rooney were part of the surprise announcement in the packed school gymnasium, where U.S. Cellular employees launched confetti and threw T-shirts to the bouncing crowd. Students, parents, and staff had gathered in the gym to hear a concert from singer Doug Larson, which ended before the governor arrived.
For the little school 15 miles west of Cedar Rapids, it was a particularly sweet reward for a creative and spirited campaign.
“We have 158 students in preschool through eighth grade,” said Principal Jan Doellinger. “We entered this campaign as a dark horse because we are a smaller school.”
Since the contest is won by the number of votes cast for a school, larger schools would seem to have a leg up. And Central Lutheran entered the contest a week after it started and other schools had already registered votes.
But Central Lutheran had something other schools didn’t have: Andrea Weber.
Administrative assistant, chief cheerleader and go-to person for the contest, Weber told Doellinger from the start that “everyone had better be prepared to eat, sleep and drink this contest.”
And they did.
Weber sent out daily e-mails, encouragement, and strategies.
Some elderly members of the school’s sponsoring congregations, who needed help to vote in the online contest, were allowed to use the school’s computer lab.
U.S. Cellular posted weekly how the schools were ranked in terms of votes, and “two weeks after we’d entered, we were in second place,” Weber said. “That was just nuts! But it marked the point when people really started to think this could become a reality. We started with such a high level of enthusiasm and just never slacked off.”
“Every single day that we had school, people from around the community would stop by the school office just to chat about the contest,” she said. “They’d call me at home to discuss the contest. The churches were abuzz with talk of the contest.” Central Lutheran is in an association with three congregations: St. John, Newhall; St. John, Keystone, Iowa; and St. Stephen, Atkins, Iowa.
Students, staff, and parents spread the word about the contest to alumni and other supporters across the country.
This is the second year that U.S. Cellular has awarded $1 million to 10 schools in the Calling All Communities contest. Central Lutheran was the third school named as the company rolls out this year’s 10 winners.
Doellinger said the school is near the ending phase of a capital campaign to raise money for a building program, and that it’s anticipated that the contest winnings will help build a new gym and remodel the school’s kitchen, though the decision will go through its board of education.
And, as a tithe, each of the school’s 10 grades (preschool through eighth) will decide how to use $1,000 of the winnings, according to the principal.
Each class, she said, “needs to come up with a mission project — either locally, nationally, or globally — and determine which organizations get how much. As we have been blessed, we will be a blessing to others.”
There’s a good stewardship lesson there, she said.
But there’s really one main message that Doellinger hopes everybody takes from her school’s win: “With God, all things are possible.”
Sandy Wood is a reporter and editor, and a member of Chapel of the Cross Lutheran Church, St. Louis.
Posted Feb. 19, 2010