Alumna Casey Hostetler doesn’t recall the exact moment the idea hit her. She just woke up one day last summer with a thought: What are practical things people can do to help make their hometowns a better place?
It was a simple concept, but profound in its potential. What would happen if – like the massively successful ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 – this thing went viral? What kind of impact would it have in Yamhill County … Portland … Oregon … the nation?
Hostetler couldn’t wait to share her idea, dubbed the “Better My Town Challenge.” She started with coworkers at her place of employment, Hagan Hamilton Insurance in McMinnville, Ore., thinking it might make for a nice marketing campaign. She told friends, who suggested it might work but weren’t sure, before ultimately consulting with Nathan Knottingham, president and CEO of the McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Nathan and I talked for quite a while before finally saying, ‘Why not, let’s do this,’” says Hostetler, who earned both a degree in business management (2013) and an MBA (2014) from George Fox. “We obviously didn’t know what to expect because you just don’t know how people will respond. But I was encouraged by what I saw with the Ice Bucket Challenge. This was the same idea, just that you would be doing practical things rather than dumping a bucket of cold water on your head.”
The idea: Post a video on social media in which you state your name, who nominated you and what task you are performing to better your town. It could be anything from disinfecting doorknobs around town to donating food or clothing to a local charity. Conclude the message by nominating three people and encouraging them to keep the chain going by nominating three individuals each.
On the second day after the campaign’s launch in October, 3,500 pounds of food was donated to the Newberg F.I.S.H. food bank. A donation of more than 6,000 diapers to A Family Place, a charity that helps reduce childhood abuse and neglect in Yamhill County, followed. Before long, word of other good deeds – a group of young girls picking up trash in the park, of coffee being delivered to fire and police departments, of a hair salon giving out free haircuts – were documented.
In all, more than 150 acts of service have been reported. There may be many more, but Hostetler suspects they haven’t been made public or earmarked with the campaign’s hashtags, #BetterMyTown or #BetterMyTownChallenge.
“It’s really important that people hashtag their posts – and to make sure videos shared on Facebook are visible to the public – so we know about it and can see where it goes from here,” she says. “My hope is that people hear about it and start it in their own hometown. There’s no end date to it – it can go on forever – so there’s no time frame or limit to how far it can spread.”
Hostetler hopes the message of the campaign gets through – that people can do simple things every day to make their surrounding community a better place.
“People often have a tendency to complain about something in their community but aren’t willing to do anything about it,” she says. “My feeling is, why complain about something if you aren’t willing to take action and do something? This is a very practical thing, and anybody can do it.”
Her ultimate dream: that she one day appear on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk about the Challenge. “That would mean it went national and that thousands of communities were impacted in a huge way,” she laughs. “Yeah, that would be pretty cool.”
She also wants to make it clear the initiative isn’t a “one-person show.”
“I couldn’t have done any of this without God’s guidance and grace, my husband’s support, and the community involvement,” she says.