Mayors' prayer breakfast hunting for sponsors

Annual event was almost cancelled

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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This year's upcoming Clark County Mayors' and Civic Leaders' Prayer Breakfast almost got canceled. But its organizers have faith.

"We want to exhaust all options before we cancel," said J.R. Cantrell, a member of the local chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship in America, which puts on the event every year.

The 11th annual prayer breakfast, set for Oct. 25 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, has only drummed up 18 committed corporate sponsors so far, Cantrell said. By this time of year, he said, it's usually passed the 50 mark.

"That helps us move forward with the things we have to do," he said — such as market the event ahead of time and feel confident that room rental, the keynote speaker's fee and other bills will get paid once the event is done.

It cost $35,000 to put on last year's prayer breakfast, which drew 900 people, Cantrell said. Registration costs $33 for individual seats or $300 for a table of 10. Corporate sponsorships that get a logo included in mailings and other materials start at $150 — but go much higher. Visit http://clarkcountyprayerbreakfast.org to learn more.

Cantrell said he doesn't have a strong theory why corporate commitments are lagging this summer — except that the improving economy still hasn't improved that much, and hungry nonprofit agencies are all asking for funds.

Sponsors of last year's breakfast ran the gamut — from McDonald's to the YWCA.

He said the event doesn't break or even bend the constitutional separation of church and state.

"I think the community at large knows this is a neutral event. It doesn't favor anybody. It's just an event to awaken the community to the things that are going on, and to bless the people," he said. Mayors and other dignitaries "come for the camaraderie and the community and because we have good messages at the event. We always have a great speaker with a pertinent message of hope and strength and not just God. They don't just come and talk about God."

This year's keynote speaker will be Christian musician Jon Sheptock, whose parents handed him off to the state of New Jersey at birth because he was born without arms. "He worked through hardships and became a born-again Christian," said Cantrell.

Previous speakers at the breakfast have included everyone from the chaplain for the Portland Trail Blazers to former Congresswoman Linda Smith, who spoke about the problem of sex trafficking, to former football star Jeff Kemp, a foe of same-sex marriage who supports "traditional marriage" though his own nonprofit organization.

Each year, one Clark County mayor is selected to be the event's "host mayor." This year it's Yacolt Mayor Jeff Carothers.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.