Mormon feminists, LDS Church unite in scholarship drive
Tracy McKay was desperate.
The Mormon mother in eastern Washington was divorced, caring for three children, broke and trying to complete her final term of college when she learned that her LDS Church support would be ending.
"The last two days have been a swirling vortex of panic and tears," McKay wrote Feb. 7 on her blog, dandelionmama.wordpress.com. "It feels like I've had the wind knocked out of me, and I'm seeing stars. I want to curl up and cry. I want to close my eyes and have someone else make it all better."
That someone was Tresa Edmunds, a Mormon writer, activist and blogger in Modesto, Calif.
As soon as Edmunds read McKay's painful story, she proposed that Feminist Mormon Housewives create a scholarship fund to help McKay finish her degree. The bloggers agreed. An account was set up where people could donate, and the contributions began pouring in.
It was precisely the kind of effort Housewives had done before and hope to do again in an institutionalized way. And it fit within the bloggers' mission to be "feminist and faithful."
"Tracy is a beloved member of the [LDS] bloggernacle, and her need was immediate," says Utahn Lindsay Park. "We want to continue to do this for other women, using education as a way to provide [empowerment]."
Last fall, the LDS Church invited the feminist bloggers to participate in an effort called "Mommy Bloggers Unite." The plan was to raise money for an LDS Business College scholarship for a single mother by publicizing it and asking for donations among their readers.
At an October meeting in Provo, about 40 bloggers met with Mormon officials to learn about the program and receive a "widget," or software device for the Web, that they could install on their blogs, which described the program.
The meeting was cordial, says Derek Staffanson, a Salt Lake City stay-at-home dad and Feminist Mormon Housewives blogger who attended on behalf of the group. Other than church officials, Staffanson was the only man.
"It was nice to see the church spearheading this kind of thing," Staffanson says, "since so often [LDS leaders] speak mostly about the traditional family, not about single parents."
Even a more conservative Mormon blogger who doesn't like the feminist site, he says, "was friendly."
According to Park, Housewives were told that when the widget went up at feministmormonhousewives.org, "a spike in [the church's] traffic went up."
The fundraising idea originated with LDS Philanthropies, which noted that Mormon mommy bloggers had raised thousands of dollars for humanitarian efforts after Haiti's 2010 hurricane.
"This group of women ran businesses and blogs out of their homes and they had these great contacts," says Craig Nelson, an LDS Business College administrator who oversees scholarships. "They were tremendously successful."
The aim was to collect $7,200 to fund a full scholarship to the two-year school, Nelson says, but the mommy bloggers raised more than $10,000. About a quarter of a million people viewed the scholarship presentation on the blogs.
"I was overwhelmed with the interest and response including $5 checks from people who saw it on a blog," Nelson says. "It represented the natural good will of people; lots of single moms helped us. It was a great experience."
For her part, McKay was overwhelmed with the help from strangers coming her way.
Within a few weeks, the Housewives raised half the money she needed to help her finish her degree, and they expect to reach the total shortly.
When McKay got a message that said, "We've got this one, Trace," she writes that she "crumbled to my knees. Cradling my tear-swollen face in my arms, I could string together nothing coherent to any human ear, but I knew with a quickening of my soul that God had not forgotten me."
God was reaching out to her, she writes, "with a hundred different hands beautiful, tender hands made of flesh and bone and sinew hands of my sisters and brothers."
Those, she says, are "the hands of God."