The Rev. Bill Hassel was working on his doctorate degree in church education 17 years ago – while pastoring First English Church – and came up with an event that would change and better the community for more than a decade.

As part of a class assignment, Hassel – who has since retired from the church – was led to put in motion what would become Heritage Day, a church fundraiser aimed at giving the proceeds to immediate community members and organizations in need.

“It was probably going to be a one-time or two-time event,” Hassel said, remembering the first year. “We were going to have a meal, live auction and so on, and the big challenge was to give half of the proceeds away.”

Hassel remembered, “if we only made $100 on it, well, that was a $100 that the beneficiaries didn’t have the day before.”

With the help of dozens of volunteers that first year, which has in the past nearly two decades increased to hundreds of committed church members, Heritage Day has become the church’s biggest fundraiser each year. Every year, for more than a decade, the church gives 100 percent of Heritage Day proceeds away, which today has ballooned to $676,000.

“When I first started, I had just finished dental school and moved back to Victoria, and Heritage Day was a neat way to give back to the community,” said Dr. Aaron Muegge, who has volunteered for the event since 2005 and now serves as chairman. “I really enjoyed getting to work with all of our church friends, working together with our fellow sister and brother. It was a lot of work, but it makes for a good weekend and you know in the back of your mind it makes an impact on the community.”

Muegge has been a lifelong member of First English, though he was away when Heritage Day launched. To look back and reflect on the event’s ability to give away more than a half-million dollars to Crossroads recipients since its inception, Muegge said is the collective work of so many dedicated church members and generous community residents who believe in the cause.

“It’s powerful seeing everyone come together, working together. It shows what we can all do together and how much money we can actually put in the local area,” he said. “And that’s why people continue to give, they see the benefits of what it does.”

Every year at the event – which has only missed one year when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017 – there are a host of items donated to both the silent and live auctions. There are meal plates sold for $10 each, and all of the food is donated. The country store also brings in funds, and businesses purchase ad space in the program. With no overhead, 100 percent of the funds collected at the event are able to be distributed in the community.

“It’s deepened and strengthened my faith all these years to see everyone working together, hand in hand, to help others,” the chairman said.

Though Hassel is no longer affiliated with the program he helped launch – Hassel was diagnosed with ALS in 2007, which affects his mobility – he remains convinced it wasn’t his idea anyway.

With its longevity and financial success, he said, “It must have been a God thing, and definitely not a Bill thing.”

Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi writes about religion and faith for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at jenniferpreyss.com, or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss.

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