Thrivent gives back to community

A glimpse of what the new Thrivent Community Center looked like before renovations.

by Amy Gawry

For many years, Thrivent Financial has been offering financial services to its members, as well as providing opportunities for giving back. With help and encouragement from the local Thrivent office and staff, Marquette area members are able to meet the needs of many organizations and individuals in their community.

For the past three years, Thrivent has been offering the Thrivent Action Teams program to their members.

“Real simply put, it’s seed money for a fundraiser, service project, or educational event,” said Theresa Sell, the Independent Financial Consultant who runs the Marquette office.

Action Teams provides members with $250, plus additional optional supplies such as shirts, invitations, or banners, for their event or service task. All members are eligible for two Action Teams per year.

“The goal of this is really to inspire action, to inspire generosity, and to give people the tool that they need to do that, which is money,” Sell said.

Thrivent is a not-for-profit organization, so the money that they would have paid in taxes goes back into the communities they serve. For Thrivent Financial as a whole, that’s around $425 million a year that’s given back to the people instead of being paid to the government.

Thrivent has distributed this money through different programs over the years. Previous programs involved boards who would award matching funds or grants. The Action Teams program allows all members to get involved.

“Instead of putting the money in the hands of one group of people, every single one of our members has money under their control,” Sell said.

There are countless ways that Action Teams can be used.

How it looks now

“The event can be an existing one, or one that you make up yourself,” Sell said. “People shouldn’t limit themselves by thinking that an event has to be this big thing.”

Projects can be as simple as grabbing a friend and shopping for supplies to donate to a non-profit, or as big as organizing a fundraiser dinner for hundreds of people.

There are a wide variety of events that have been done in Marquette already. The Ending Hunger Alliance of Marquette, an organization both started and supported by Action Teams, was able to pack 3,000 meals and 6,000 snacks at Christmas for children and families.  Members organizing church rummage sales used Action Teams to fund their advertising and purchase banners. Action Teams have put flags on local veterans’ graves and purchased a podium and speakers for the Disabled American Veterans chapter. The dressing rooms at the Salvation Army were an Action Team project. Members have also used Action Teams for many Adopt-a-Family projects and fundraising bake sales. People have bought medical supplies for mission trips, and made cards to cheer nursing home residents.

Around 30 Action Teams have benefited UPAWS. Ann Brownell, UPAWS community outreach coordinator, has a whole list of them on file. Action Teams bought food and gifts for the Home for the Holidays Open House in December, funded online advertising for the “Share the Love” adoption drive, and outfitted the holiday fundraising booth with a locking display case. Action Teams have also purchased many items from the UPAWS wishlist.

“We are very grateful for Thrivent Financial Action Team Projects for UPAWS,” Brownell said. “With them we are able to do more for the homeless pets and for our community. It’s a win-win.”

In the past three years, a little over 500 Action Teams have been used by Marquette area members. That’s $125,000 that’s gone into our community. While that number is great, it could be much higher if more people utilized their Action Teams. “$200,000 worth of Action Teams expired last year, just in Marquette,” Sell said.

One of the reasons people don’t apply, Sell feels, is that they don’t understand the program. “It can be hard to wrap your mind around,” Sell said.

For some, it may sound daunting to “apply” for the Action Teams, but the process is simple, and only takes about five minutes to complete. Members simply log in to the website using basic account information, and answer a few questions about their event or project.

Some don’t realize they have Action Teams available because they think the program is only for members with large amounts of money invested in Thrivent, which is not the case.

“No matter how much or how little you have with us, every single member has two of them,” Sell said.

The Action Teams are sometimes confused with the Thrivent Choice Dollars, another give-back program.  Choice Dollars do depend on a member’s business with Thrivent, and don’t require action other than designating the money to an approved organization. Not all members have Choice Dollars, but all members have Action Teams.

Some people feel that organizing an event is more than they can handle, but there are lots of small scale options. It can be as simple as buying a door prize for an existing fundraiser. “It doesn’t have to be a big deal,” Sell said.

Action Teams does not require members to turn in receipts; they just ask for a brief summary of how the event went. Thrivent tries to keep the process as simple and easy as possible, so that members can focus on the action they’re taking for their community.

Sell and the staff at the Marquette office put a lot of time and effort into educating people about the Action Teams, and helping members get started.

“It’s not something I get paid for, but it’s something I believe in,” Sell said.

Last fall, they hosted an event called GiveTank, inspired by the reality show SharkTank, where members could browse ideas and choose which one they wanted to fund with their Action Team.  Local organizations, like UPAWS, wrote proposals for events, giving members all the information they would need to apply. About 300 ideas were submitted, and half of them were funded by event attendees.

Sell encourages non-profits to remind people about the program themselves as well. Foster Closet of Michigan–Marquette County Branch posted a reminder on their Facebook page at Sell’s prompting, just before the year-end deadline for the 2016 Action Teams. Reminders like that give them a better chance of receiving support through Action Teams. Foster Closet depends on volunteers and donations, and says that they have been grateful to receive donations through Thrivent and the Action Teams in the past.

Action Teams can encourage community interaction as well as build up local organizations and programs. Sell hopes this will get people working together and taking care of one another, more like society was generations ago.

“If you look back, it used to be the church was the core. And if your neighbor needed something, you helped them. We acted like a village and a community and that’s really what we’re trying to inspire,” Sell said.

There’s another program happening in the Thrivent building now that also encourages people to interact as a community. The space at 702 Chippewa Square in Marquette now houses the Thrive Community Center, a rental space that Sell created to fill a gap she saw in the Marquette area.

Sell bought the building where the office is now located in April 2016. When they moved in, they had 750 square feet of extra space.

“Over and over, there were organizations saying that they needed to find a space for events,” Sell said.

She decided to turn their extra space into something that could be used to meet that need.

They started renovating the space in September. Sell’s husband did most of the labor on the project, and it was finished just before the end of the year. They removed old walls, built a new wall to partition the entryway, added a kitchenette, painted, changed lighting and installed flooring.

The space also has tables and chairs available, a podium, and a projector for presentations. Unlike many other spaces, there are no restrictions on what food can be brought in.

The space has its own outside entrance, so it can be completely separate from the business. The door is painted red, so it’s easily distinguishable, and has a keypad, so renters can let themselves in once they’ve been given a code.

So far, the space has been used for Boy Scout meetings, essential oils classes, an emergency preparedness seminar and some home-based business events.

“My goal was to create an inexpensive way that people could hold events and have choices for food,” Sell said. “I just want to see it used.”

Sell thinks it’s an ideal space for parties, such as baby showers or birthday parties, as well as meetings and educational events.

“It’s quiet, it’s private, and it’s your own space,” said Sell.

Rates run between $8 to $10 per hour, depending on the type of event. Sell is flexible on letting people come ahead of time to set up without charging extra when availability allows. The space is owned and operated entirely by Sell, so Thrivent does not benefit from the rental space.

Sell feels that both the Community Center and the Action Teams have great potential to help our community, and hopes to see more people making use of them in the future.

“It’s an awesome program, and it could have such an impact,” Sell said of the Action Teams. “This is an opportunity for people to step up for the deficiencies that they’re worried about and fill the need.”

For more on Action Teams, visit www.thrivent.com/actionteam. For Community Center rental information, go to facebook.com/Thrivecommunitycenter or email thriverental@gmail.com. For Questions on Action Teams or the Community Center, call 225-8001.

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