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Poppins and Circumstance: Spring Valley Academy’s Annual Fundraiser Raises More Than Funds for Worthy Students

 Scott Carpenter Photo credit: Scott Carpenter

Poppins and Circumstance: Spring Valley Academy’s Annual Fundraiser Raises More Than Funds for Worthy Students

By Beth Michaels

There were 370 of them, many of whom were dressed in Edwardian couture, with women in large brimmed hats adorned with delicate cloth flowers and men in penguin suits. The attendees complimented the ballroom’s décor, including creative table centerpieces of women’s accessories—fancy hats displayed on fabric mannequin heads with matching shoes, gloves, scarves and such—and umbrellas every color that hung from the ceiling. What brought the room to visual completion was the front stage decorated with miniature carousel horses, red metal benches, and a bright and cheery floral backdrop.

What one wouldn’t expect is that this was the setting of Spring Valley Academy’s (SVA) annual fundraiser, a chance for school, family and community supporters to gather for a meal, silent and live auctions, entertainment and, most importantly, a good cause. For this fourth consecutive annual campaign for the Ohio Conference day academy in Centerville, “The Jolly Holiday Gala” centered around none other than Mary Poppins, the classic 1960s film.

There are many impressive details about the event, including the sophisticated décor and talented actors and singers who present the short play. There is also the fact that it has continued to increase in attendance each year, this past year by more than 100. And, more and more of those attendees have no direct connection to the school or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This year’s crowd included two politicians.

Principal Darren Wilkins | Photo credit by Scott Cassell Principal Darren Wilkins | Photo credit by Scott Cassell

The growing attendance has also continued to increase the amount of financial support raised; this year it topped $335,000. What might be most impressive, however, is that the amount raised to date from the past four fundraisers has secured SVA’s Worthy Student Fund with sufficient reserves to meet financial aid requests for the next three years. Frank Perez, SVA board chairman, reports that those funds are helping 35 percent of SVA’s current students attend the academy this school year.

With those funds secure, every dollar raised at this year’s gala will go toward a new auditorium/chapel. Actually, Perez reports that the gala committee voted and approved for the entire proceeds from two more annual fundraisers to go toward making the new structure a reality.

To date, $1.5 million has been donated or pledged toward the chapel. And, with the proceeds of the next two fundraisers to go toward the new structure, reports Perez, SVA hopes to break ground in 2017.

“This is a 45-year dream of those who started SVA, to raise money for a building that could be used for worship, music and performing arts,” Darren Wilkins, SVA principal, told gala attendees. “For all that SVA does to prepare students to succeed and contribute in their chosen careers, it is through worship and the arts that they discover beauty, meaning and the imprint of the divine in their hearts. We are gathered here for big reasons. We’re coming together to put our stake in the ground, to create a space where miraculous things will happen in the lives of our kids.”

When so many Adventist schools across North America are struggling financially, even facing closure, it’s a bright light for Adventist education to have a school with such support, and, as result, to be one of the few that is growing. Wilkins reports they had a 25 percent increase in their high school enrollment between the 2013-14 school year and this one—nearly reaching their limit. What’s their secret? “There is an unparalleled passion about Adventist education in this community,” shares Perez, whose grandchildren attend SVA.

Sandra Peebles, event coordinator, who has two SVA alumni and one senior enrolled, concurs. “The gala/auction committee, Home & School Association, faculty and staff, parents (past and present), alumni and students all come together to create the gala,” she says. “The reason we are all involved is because we are passionate about Spring Valley Academy. We have one night to show our appreciation for the support we receive, so I personally make sure that every detail is in place to contribute to the theme of the event.”

Wilkins, who also has three children currently attending SVA, confirms, “We’ve had a couple of years of strong stability and continuity of staff. There is a good perception and vibe in the school, and surveys show high satisfaction.”

The school’s support got an enormous boost when the fundraiser grew from a simple auction to its current gala format in 2013, and when administrators from the nearby Kettering Adventist HealthCare (KAHC) system took an interest. “With the success over the years and with the support of Fred Manchur, KAHC CEO, and his leadership team, even community members that do not have students at SVA have embraced this project,” explains Perez. Those SVA “friends” were some of this year’s $5,000 donors.

Wilkins says the growing collaboration between the school and KAHC deserves more mention. In recent years, “KAHC leadership is placing higher priority on hiring young Adventist professionals,” he says. “So, they’ve got a stream of young families moving to the area that have children.” He explains that KAHC administrators want to be able to offer those families a strong Adventist education and, therefore, do what they can to support the school.

With support for SVA on an upward swing, and a new chapel to make a reality, the gala committee is already planning next year’s fundraiser. “Please join us on March 6, 2016, for a Sound of Music-themed event called ‘The Hills Are Alive Gala.’ Your heart will be blessed with the "sounds of music,” promises Peebles. And, if you attend, maybe you’ll get to take home the unique teacup and saucer at your place setting.

Beth Michaels is editor for the Columbia Union Conference’s monthly publication, Visitor magazine, and associate director of communication.

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