Supportive. Encouraging. Uplifting. Meaningful. Humbling.
These are just some of the many words students use to describe their feelings about their involvement with the HPU Board of Stewards. Those involved in the group, after all, are busy throughout the entire academic year – serving a key role in making weekly chapel services such a success. But you can often find the group lending a hand to members of the community through various service projects: buying gifts for needy children, providing meals to the hungry and much more.
Established in 1990 by Dr. Hal Warlick, former minister to the university and dean of the Hayworth Chapel who retired in 2012, the Board of Stewards has experienced tremendous success over the years. The Stewards, who are responsible for the ecumenical worship services, help plan worship services, including writing prayers, ushering and collecting and distributing the offerings.
“The Board of Stewards now and always has been comprised of exemplary students, representing a variety of groups across campus,” says Shannon LeFever, manager of Chapel Programs. “They come from differing backgrounds, hometowns, religious affiliations and academic majors. These students stand and work side by side for four years on the Stewards, and they become friends in the process. They are also leaders among their peers – student body presidents, officers and presidents of their fraternities and sororities, HPU Ambassadors, academic scholars and more.”
With 27 members during the 2012-13 academic year, the group has grown considerably over the years, notes Tyler Steelman, a two-year member of the Stewards. “With our numbers growing and the diversity of involvement being brought to the table, we have expanded our reach significantly,” Steelman says.
That expansion includes reaching out to more members of the university community. Chapel attendance has experienced notable growth, meaning the Stewards have been able to collect a significant amount of offerings during the fall and spring semesters – ultimately helping an untold amount of community members.
“During the fall 2012 semester, we raised $10,000 to purchase toys, clothing and other gifts for 150 needy children for the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program,” says Virginia Ellis, senior who joined the Stewards as a freshman. “We’ve donated 100 percent of our fall offering to this program since 2002. This year, we also assisted the Salvation Army’s Toy Shop Program to put together toys for ‘unadopted angels.’”
Alyssa McFarland, junior who also joined as a freshman, notes the shopping experience for the Salvation Army was particularly incredible. “We shopped for these 150 children individually, bagged their presents and delivered them to the Salvation Army,” McFarland says. “The entire experience is simply amazing, and to know that when we dropped these toys off, we were giving to so many children at Christmas, that they may have never had without not only the Board of Stewards, but also all of those who donated during the chapel services throughout the fall semester.”
LeFever adds that funds from the spring semester offerings go toward the West End Ministries, a valuable organization that serves members of the community through the Boys and Girls Club, a women’s shelter, a thrift shop and the Kid’s Café, which feeds hungry children during the week.
“The Stewards volunteer in the fall with the Boys and Girls Club, doing fun activities such as ‘Trunk or Treat’ at Halloween. They have helped serve meals at Thanksgiving, and in the spring they give the boys and girls a Valentine’s party, as well as an Easter egg hunt,” LeFever says. “The children truly enjoy the playtime and the candy, of course. But more importantly, they feel cared for and loved by these students who so generously give of their time.”
Chapel services, philanthropy opportunities and time spent together combine to form an altogether unique experience. “It’s really the small, special moments that the Stewards get to share with these kids that make the organization unlike any other at HPU,” McFarland says. “And those who make up this group continue to be the most selfless, charismatic and loving people I have ever met. My time spent with the Stewards has helped me become more confident and open about myself and my thoughts. It has helped me develop leadership skills that have ultimately served me in other facets of my life.”
Their dedication exudes throughout campus and beyond, and the group has become a “home” for many students. “One of the best things about being a Steward is the fellowship and relationship we have with one another,” Ellis says.
Steelman adds, “The Stewards have become a family for me. In our journey to provide for the spiritual needs of the university and surrounding community, we begin to open up to each other and create a bond within the group. Whether it’s a philanthropic event or just passing each other on the Promenade, there is a connection between us all that has created a tightly knit community.”