Now serving its fourth generation, MEI has a new story to tell parents, supporting churches, and the ever-growing community of people who believe in the work and values of the Abbotsford, B.C., school. Mennonite Educational Institute started classes in 1944 with only 60 students; it now operates K–12 with 1,400 students on behalf of 13 Abbotsford-area MB and Mennonite Church congregations. The contrast between then and now has given MEI’s leadership a passion to communicate in a fresh way: through the Legacy Project.
“A lot has changed over the years,” says board chair Jason Born, whose children are among the fourth-generation MEI students. What has not changed is MEI’s support structure and its funding base. In B.C., the government provides money only toward operating costs in accredited schools. It does not fund private schools’ capital needs or program equipment.
“The supporting church structure is a key link,” says Born. “It is unique to MEI, and has provided a success factor over the long term since the school first started.”
With many financial supporters and former students unaware of the newest changes, “we realized we had to tell our stories.”
What has emerged is MEI’s Legacy Project. It starts with an invitation to supporters and their friends to visit the school for a one-hour program. Called “Heart of MEI,” or HOME presentations, visitors hear stories from students about changes in their lives. They hear from teachers and administrators, and they see first-hand what the school is doing.
Born says the MEI board’s desire to reconnect with its support community requires full commitment, both individually and as a group. “We see the steps we’ve taken as a critical piece.” The 20-member board and MEI administrators were up for the challenge.
The board acted in faith and committed $15,000 of its budget to a new, community-building initiative. Individual board members and administration also made personal commitments to not allow the effort to flag.
Born stresses this initiative is not primarily about fundraising. Building relationships through effective communication is a greater requirement, says Born, and money issues are secondary. “If people believe in something, the money will come.”
And the money has come. A recent luncheon banquet featuring MEI choirs, staff, and student testimonials brought five-year pledges totalling more than $300,000 toward the school’s needed Wi-Fi upgrades, tuition assistance programs, and other expenses not covered by government grants.
Born says the goal is to ensure that at least half of those who attend next year’s Legacy luncheon have first attended a HOME experience. They’d like to bring 12 people into the school each week as they continue to build on friendships and connections.
The initiative is hard work, Born says, but in a school dedicated to Christian spiritual formation and community, prayers and partnerships constitute the heart of MEI.