Are you looking for a way to get involved in ministry locally or globally? Do you have information or expertise to share? Are you interested in learning what makes outreach projects in other cities or countries effective?
Christians can now meet online and work together using a new tool, World Wide Open (www.worldwideopen.org). A group of Westmont alumni developed the innovative site and launched a beta version in December 2008. “We want to tear down walls between churches and organizations,” says Sam Melvin ’04, director of the Web-based platform. “We’ve created an intersection where individuals, churches and not-for-profits can interact and make a greater impact on the world.” A clever bit of animation on the site clearly explains the concept.
The idea began at Westmont in 2005 when Sam, Eric Knopf ’04, Brent Boekestein ’04, Jim Bisenius ’05 and Mike Yankoski ’05 gathered in the old math building on campus and sketched out their ideas on a dry-erase board. Trustee Rick Ifland ’83 joined the discussion and encouraged the alumni to pursue their dream; he continues to support WWO by serving on its board. “Rick has impressed me as a businessman who lives out his faith,” Sam says. “He’s using his gifts and abilities in ways that have eternal significance. That’s what I want to do with my life.”
No ads clutter the site, which is free for all users. Sam works full time for WWO thanks to support from several family foundations. To fund the enterprise, WWO hopes to license its technology so large churches and organizations can customize it for their own internal use while still participating in the worldwide sharing of information.
Sam majored in both communication studies and economics and business at Westmont and prepared for a career in the business world. “I thought I’d make my money elsewhere and work on WWO when I could,” he says. After graduating, he joined Eric Knopf in building Vision Launchers, a company that assists start-ups. He focused primarily on Web-related tasks. “It seemed like every project we worked on helped contribute to the WWO idea,” Sam says. The site became his full-time job in the fall of 2007.
Sam, Eric and Brent Boekestein and their wives all live in Sacramento, Calif., and continue to be close friends. WWO has an office in the same building where Eric runs Vision Launchers and Brent works with Titus Equity Partners, Rick Ifland’s company. Sam’s wife, Sharon Leonard Melvin ’04, manages a federal grant for the Flourishing Families program, which provides training for low-income parents.
“I have a big heart for children at risk, and I’d love to see organizations serving children sharing resources and knowledge through WWO,” Sam says. “That way, they can see beyond their own reach and get global experience and feedback, which will help them grow. We’re already hearing success stories about WWO connecting people and non-profits serving in the same location or capacity.”
Getting the word out about the site occupies most of Sam’s time at present. “We’re growing WWO organically, exploring how we can integrate it into a variety of networks throughout the world,” he says. “It’s a huge, crazy idea, and it’s exciting to see where God is leading us.”