Head of School Dr. David Tilley said it was a community effort.
“This whole thing has been a blessing from God to us,” Tilley said. “You have to develop a culture of philanthropy, and I think we’re there. Our people understand and, we’ve caught the vision. They have the passion, they know our mission and they believe in what we do. We’re just real excited about this, and I know the community in Marietta and Cobb County will be as well.”
Seven years ago, the Murray Arts Center, an 84,400-square-foot, state-of-the-art performing arts facility located at the corner of Stilesboro and Stanley roads in Kennesaw, was constructed and paid for by Mount Paran parent Don Dozier.
In December 2007, Dozier agreed to sell the $38.5 million building and property to Mount Paran for $16.5 million.
Tilley said then school launched a capital campaign, “imagine tomorrow,” based on the Bible scripture Ephesians 3:20, “To Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.”
The first major donation of $10 million was a foundation grant given by the family of the late Stuart and Eulene Murray, who lived in Cobb and were patrons of the arts. The Murray Arts Center was renamed shortly after the donation was made.
In 2010, Tilley said the school was approached by an anonymous donor who challenged them to raise $5 million of the remaining $6.5 million by Dec. 31, 2012.
If the school could do that, the donor would give the school the last $1.5 million needed to purchase the center.
Tilley asked school parents Dale and Cindy Hughes to chair the capital campaign committee to raise the funds.
“It wasn’t getting on phones, it was communicating the message as what we saw were our strengths at Mount Paran,” said Dale Hughes who had one son graduate from the school and a second on track to graduate next spring.
The Hughes recruited 15 couples to serve on the committee and were responsible for collecting donations and pledges from staff members, parents, business owners, Cobb residents, Atlanta-area foundations and even students who participated in the campaign by writing essays about what the addition would mean to the school.
On Nov. 30, 2012, when the school was still $1.8 million from the $5 million goal, they hosted a “celebration” rally to try and draw in the remainder of the funds needed.
“That event lit a fire through this community,” Dale Hughes said.
When school dismissed for the Christmas break on Dec. 19, they were still $800,000 short of the goal. But by Dec. 31, the school went from $470,000 short to $70,000 over the goal. They ended up raising $16.63 million in all.
“It was very clear that God wanted this to be completely a community effort,” said Cindy Hughes. “From the very youngest here to our staff, it just went across the board and people were very anxious to tell us what this place means to them, their families and the community.”
Jennifer New, the school’s director of development, said families gave anywhere from $100 to thousands, and what they discovered was that the campaign “created a culture of philanthropy” at the school.
“I’m just proud of the way that our families have sacrificed and the way they’ve stepped out on faith to make the gifts that they have made,” she said. “Lots of people told us that it wasn’t possible. A formal feasibility study told us that it was not possible … we explain it the only way that makes sense to us, and that’s God has been in this every step of the way.”
The fundraising efforts were the first of a three-phase project that will be completed with efforts to raise another $7 million for the school to build a high school addition and athletic stadium.
“As a Christian school, we believe there are three things that we want to simultaneously encourage in addition to development of Christian formation, and that is arts, academics and athletics,” Tilley said.
Campaigning for the next two phases should begin shortly.
Tilley said there is a need for the $5.5 million high school facility because many teachers are floating from classroom to classroom, and others are teaching in the arts center.
With the establishment of so many new sports in recent years, Tilley said a new $1.5 million stadium, which would be built where the current stadium is located, is “warranted.”
“Our students deserve it,” he said. “We have developed to a point now with football, lacrosse, soccer, marching band, track and all the other sports that we have, we need an athletic stadium to match the quality of student performance that we have.”
Mt. Paran Christian was established in 1976 and initially located in Buckhead. It was relocated to east Cobb in 1986 and to its current location in 2003. Upon moving to Kennesaw, the school served 671students and now serves 1,220 in Pre-K through 12th grade.