A Behind-the-Scenes View: Project Reach Tulsa

photo-13When we hear about a local church or ministry, we focus on their services or outreaches.  Since I deal with the management side of ministry, I know that a lot of work happens behind the scenes to make those events a success.

I thought it would be interesting to start interviewing various ministry and outreach leaders.  I want to know how they got started, what it takes to keep the organization up-and-running, tips they have for newbies, etc.

My first interview is with Susan Collins and Tammy Smith from Project Reach Tulsa.   Susan launched Project Reach Tulsa in August of 2009 with a passion for helping people in need of a hand-up.  Their first endeavor was The Santa Outreach at an elementary school in west Tulsa.  The top need for the children was something most of us take for granted – tennis shoes.  Susan partnered with local businesses to provide new shoes and socks.  They’ve continued this tradition with the school ever since, providing winter clothing, more shoes, and even Christmas stockings full of goodies.

Susan and her team of volunteers didn’t stop there.  They’ve connected with more local businesses and national corporations that donate items they no longer want to retain in their inventory.  Companies get the tax deduction and make room for new products, while Project Reach Tulsa is able to take those items and get them directly into the hands of people who need them the most.

Many of these donations go to women who’re able to move out of a rehab facility and need household items in addition to a Parents-in-Action program. In working with school leaders, Susan realized that they needed help getting parents involved as this leads to their kids doing better in school.  The Parents-in-Action program allows parents to earn credits for volunteering their time to help teachers with extra projects.  The parents can use their credits to “purchase” household goods that they may not otherwise be able to afford.  The kids love seeing their parents involved; parents get a sense of accomplishment and can provide new items for their families; and teachers get much-needed assistance.

How have you recruited volunteers?

Mostly word-of-mouth, Facebook, and our website.  It also helps that we work to take good care of our volunteers, so they keep coming back and recruiting their friends.  We let them know what’s coming up, have each outreach planned and organized, provide snacks and drinks, and send lots of thank you notes and messages.  Mostly, our volunteers are thanking us for letting them be involved.  They enjoy being a part of helping our community.

 I used to work in a ministry Finance department, so I have to ask: How do you handle the accounting side? 

I use QuickBooks for Nonprofits to keep the books and send out donation receipts.  (Interviewer’s note: Susan has an accounting degree, so she’s well equipped to take on the bean-counting!)

How did you handle the process of filing for 501(c)3 status? 

I did quite a bit of research and ended up using LegalZoom to fill out the application.  We had our approval within a couple of months.

How do you spread the word about Project Reach Tulsa? 

We focus on making connections with people in the community.  Whenever possible, we take the opportunity to talk about our work.  However, we don’t bombard people with it.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

You don’t realize until you get into it just how significant the need is in your community.  You must have a compassionate heart with a drive to go for it.  Be committed.  It’s a lot of hard work, but definitely worth it.

Since the bad news gets the highest ratings, it’s easy to overlook the stories of people serving and helping folks who’re trying to get out of difficult situations and create a better life.  I want to focus on those who’re seeking to be part of the solution for our communities and doing that work with the love of Christ.  It requires compassion, hard work, and a lot of behind-the-scenes elbow grease, but when we serve those less fortunate, we’re actually serving our Savior.

Many thanks to Susan and Tammy for taking the time for this interview!  For more information about Project Reach Tulsa, check out their website at ProjectReachTulsa.com.

Know of a church or ministry you’d like to see profiled here? List the organization’s name in the comments section or email me with the details.