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Bethel Alum Starts Nonprofit to Lift Up Those in Need

After life-changing missions trips to Haiti, Shane O’Rourke ’14 formed Lift Up to transform lives around the world by connecting donors and organizations to complete tangible projects.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

January 27, 2020 | 12:01 p.m.

Shane O’Rourke ’14

Shane O’Rourke ’14 is the founder of Lift Up. The nonprofit helps drive projects to dig wells, buy equipment for special needs children, establish water filtration systems, build schools, and more.

As Shane O’Rourke ’14 stood in a coffeeshop line to buy a $5 coffee, he remembered how that same amount of money changed a boy’s life in Haiti.

O’Rourke had just returned to Bethel University from a trip to a remote Haitian village over interim. There, he met a boy who was unable to attend school—where he received free meals—because he couldn’t afford shoes. O’Rourke bought the boy a pair of shoes for $5. “That $5 pair of shoes gave him an education and proper nutrition for an entire school year, which blew my mind,” O’Rourke says.

The experience—and the impact of the price of a coffee—planted an idea. The idea germinated through four more trips to Haiti and through prayer and deliberation until O’Rourke formed the nonprofit Lift Up in September 2018. A year later, Lift Up hosted a one-year anniversary celebration. O’Rourke and his team highlighted how Lift Up had funded 17 projects across the world to improve the quality of life for people and communities. “We focus on the tangible: You can see, feel, touch it,” O’Rourke says. Lift Up's impact has now reached over 29,000 people and raised more than $190,000.

Lift Up started with O’Rourke sharing his aspirations and a story—the story of how a $5 pair of shoes helped a boy in Haiti—with friends and fellow church members at River Valley Church. “I talked to everyone, and a few people bought in,” he says. O’Rourke’s first big break came when a man approached him at church and offered for his company to build Lift Up’s website and manage its branding for free. In fact, www.weliftup.org would go on to win the 2019 W3 award for best nonprofit website alongside winners like Google, Crayola, AT&T, and The Spruce.

On the project side, Lift Up quickly gained traction, but O’Rourke faced early challenges to make Lift Up’s tagline a reality: “We believe every dollar makes a difference, so we give every single one away.” O’Rourke committed to giving 100% of donations to projects—Lift Up even covers transaction fees, while a bank donates wire transfer fees. Eventually, O’Rourke formed the Covering Operational Recurring Expenses (CORE) fund to sustain Lift Up. He became its first monthly giver, and he again challenged others to give, too. Six others joined him. O’Rourke then integrated Lift Up into his work as an insurance agent at his father’s Hopkins, Minnesota, agency by pledging to give half of his commission away to Lift Up. The nonprofit is now forming corporate sponsorships, and O’Rourke is working to partner with a real estate agency.

Today, a team of 12 volunteers runs Lift Up and selects projects that are tangible, meet a significant need, and are sustainable. One project bought equipment for special needs children at Heshima Children’s Center in Nairobi, Kenya; another built a water filtration system through Peace Gospel for a community in Yangon, Myanmar; another provided essential school supplies, coats, food, and hygiene items to Prior Lake, Minnesota, students through Reaching Our Communities Kids (ROCK); another brought clean water to 50 homes—and 300 people—in San Isidro, Honduras, through GoodJustice.

Whenever possible, Lift Up hires local workers and buys local products for projects to boost the local economy through a project. “We want to not only give a project, we want to stimulate the local economy at the same time,” O’Rourke says. When Lift Up helped Project Partner Sunshine Kids Club—a group that spreads the Gospel through education—build a $25,000 school in Iquitos, Peru, they hired local workers for six months to build the project. Corporate sponsor Highmark Builders helped fund the project and sent 14 builders to start the school and help train the local builders.

O’Rourke continues putting in long hours to balance his insurance work and Lift Up—as well as time with his wife, Gabi, and their young son, Brecken. But he traces his work ethic to his time playing for the Bethel basketball team during a semester when he also volunteered at church as a youth leader and small group leader, and took 21 credits. He also says majoring in missional ministries at Bethel taught him to live “a life of mission.” He recalls a professor explaining that living a life of mission doesn’t mean you must be directly in the mission field. You can live a life of mission “as you are going.” It helped O’Rourke realize he doesn’t have to wait for a mission trip to be “on mission.”

“It’s as I’m going,” he says. “We can lift people up in our back yard. We can lift people up in Zimbabwe, and it’s as we’re going. I just think there’s so much to that and the impact of what you can do with people in front of you.”
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