Gifts of Hope is an alternative gift-giving program and ministry sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Operating for 28 years, Gifts of Hope has raised and disbursed almost $4 million to two church camps, four ministries, three international companion synods, and ten area social service agencies affiliated with the Synod. These funds have helped the homeless, the hungry, the young, the elderly, immigrants, refugees, jobseekers, seminary and college students, and those seeking to improve their lives.

Our Mission and Vision

Gifts of Hope’s mission is to maximize funds going to beneficiary organizations and to encourage volunteer involvement.

In fulfilling its mission, Gifts of Hope will:

  • Make a difference in the lives of people locally and globally.
  • Help people in need.
  • Connect people to ministries.
  • Become the go-to alternative gift-giving organization within the Synod.

Leadership

Natalie Cain | Director 2020 - Present

Born and raised in North Carolina, Natalie grew up attending a Lutheran church. She is a member of Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria where she has served on Council, participates in a racial justice team, and enjoys singing and ringing handbells. Her history of personal volunteer work and professional experience engaging volunteers to achieve a shared mission led her to the role of the Gifts of Hope Director.

Natalie also is a Digital Organizer for the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions and Project Manager supporting executive coaching, assessment and selection, and leadership training. She is an alumnus of the Center for Creative Leadership’s Leadership Fundamentals and Maximizing Your Leadership Potential programs.

Natalie earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology at North Carolina State University before moving to northern Virginia, where she currently resides with her husband, son, and two cats.

Carolyn Sowinski | Director 2011-2020

In July 2011, Carolyn Sowinski became the second Director for Gifts of Hope. She and her husband Jim moved to Germantown, MD in 2010 after living in Bloomington, IN for 26 years.

While in Bloomington, Carolyn worked for 15 years for Lutheran Campus Ministry at Indiana University; for 26 years she sang in Bloomington Chamber Singers. A native of Minnesota, Carolyn received her undergraduate degree in history from St. Olaf College and her graduate degrees in American History and Library Science from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Carolyn and Jim have two adult children, Lynae and Tom, both graduates from Indiana University—Bloomington.

Sue Clark | Founder

In 1991, Sue’s brother-in-law, Dick Clark, told her of an exciting program that he led at his church in suburban Chicago. It was an amazing effort: volunteers sold individual Christmas cards to benefit different social service organizations. Each card came with an insert describing a specific item, such as backpacks for foster children. The card became the gift. That was Sue’s introduction to alternative giving, a way to give a special present in the true spirit of Christmas. Dick encouraged her to begin a similar program in her congregation. 

Inspired by Dick’s alternative giving concept, a group from the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod got together to brainstorm how they could adapt the program to our area. The idea of using a catalog and basing the gifts on proposals from organizations already affiliated with the Synod emerged. The Synod Council endorsed the plan for the program and Gifts of Hope began during Advent, 1992.

The first year garnered $42,711. Sue was thrilled but felt there was room for growth. With the help of many volunteers, support from the Synod and from local Thrivent Financial predecessors, participation and enthusiasm for Gifts of Hope increased.