The Friends General Conference annual Gathering is a wonderful opportunity for Friends to broaden their understanding of Quakerism and to engage in a fun week of fellowship and relaxation. Meetings and PFF/PYFM are so convinced of the value of this experience, (especially for teens and young adults) that money has been set aside to assist those for whom the cost would prohibit them from attending if some aid was not available. While the cost of the Gathering is actually very low compared similar events in the non-profit (and especially commercial) world, assistance from your meeting supplemented by FGC and PFF can make this wonderful week long vacation experience truly affordable for anyone.
How to proceed: Preliminary Steps
First Step. — Plan ahead! Be sure that the calendar for you (and your family if attending) is clear and that you/they will be able to attend. (This is an issue more than you might think!)
Second. — Ascertain your potential actual costs for attendance. They could vary widely. Prior to the April 1 opening of registration for the Gathering, study the advance program (available in early March) to be familiar with the registration process and to assess the total costs for you. Costs for the attendance are composed of three parts: the program fees, lodging, and meals. While the program fees are mandatory, there is great flexibility in planning for lodging and meals. For instance, you may choose more expensive options (for example, an air conditioned dorm room as a single occupant) or you can choose an normal dorm room with a room mate or the very cheap option of camping (showers and toilets provided.) Meal planning also has flexible options. For example, you may choose three meals per day in the cafeteria, (or two or one meal per day if you wish) or you could choose (in coordination with others or by yourself) to purchase food and cook cooperatively or for yourself in a dorm kitchen. The length of stay is also a way to modify cost. While the experience for most Friends is that the Gathering is more meaningful and relaxing if one is there for the entire week, it is possible to stay for a few days and only pay a portion of the fees.
Third. — Determine how much you could afford to finance on your own. If you calculate that your costs might be reduced by meal and lodging choices to to an affordable amount for the week (or a half week) , you may find that no financial aid is needed (and this, of course, would allow more Friends with greater needs to be supported.) If you find that you will indeed require financial support in order to attend, then the following steps should be taken.
Applying for Financial Aid
The first source of financial aid will be your home meeting. FGC places great importance on the meeting providing support for anyone applying for aid. (Some of their aid for first time attenders is a matching grant.) PFF would also like to see that your meeting feels it is important to support your attendance. So speak to your meeting clerk or treasurer (or other designated person) to ask that you be supported. Your meeting will send a check on your behalf to FGC which will be applied to your account. If this amount is great enough to make attendance possible for you, this will be the end of the process.
If more assistance is needed, you should specifically ask for a “scholarship” grant and/or a work grant when you fill out the Gathering registration. If you are asking FGC for this assistance, you should submit your registration form just as soon as possible as FGC’s assistance budget inevitably is (at least partly) on a first come-first served basis. On the registration, it is important to indicate that your meeting is financially supporting you.
If additional assistance is needed, you should also ask your meeting clerk or PFF representative to ask for assistance on your behalf from PFF. PFF will process this request and send either $150 (individual) or $200 (family) to FGC to be applied to your account. If this is the case, also indicate on your FGC registration that PFF is supporting you.
At this point, your costs should be reduced to the point where you could conceivably attend the Gathering for about $100 or less for the entire week (program, meals, and lodging.) That’s cheaper than you could live at home!
Don’t forget to examine transportation options. Car pooling is frequently organized from your area (and it could be a fun road trip!) In the past, special group rates have been negotiated on Amtrak. If flying, plan as far ahead as possible for the best rates.
In summary, (1) plan well ahead (start at least by January to commit and clear your calendar); (2) ask for needed support (it is available!) first from your meeting, secondly from FGC on the registration form, and third from PFF if needed; and (3) be sure to get your registration in early. (It can make a difference in support amount.) Your F/friends in PFF/PFYM want you to attend!