Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

Common Good Grant Program: Learning Through Giving

Story posted May 04, 2011

This April, the Common Good Grant Program concluded a year-long foray into the world of foundations and non-profits with the presentation of ten grants, totaling $16,650, to local organizations. Committee members were joined by donors and representatives of local non-profits for a conversation about the grants being presented and what they had learned over the course of the year. As one Committee member remarked, “I learned that the concept of the ‘common good’ has the amazing ability to bring together a fantastically diverse group of people.”

In 2001, an anonymous donor’s gift provided $10,000 each year for members of the Common Good Grant Committee, a student run organization, to disburse in grants of up to $2,500 to organizations serving the greater Brunswick area. The Committee’s mission is to both strengthen the ties between Bowdoin and the community and to educate students about non-profits. Since 2004, the $10,000 base has been supplemented by donations from local philanthropists solicited by members of the Extension Committee. To date, the Committee has granted upwards of $140,000 to area non-profits. The Request for Proposals issued by the Committee in November of last year drew 39 grant applications totaling over $74,000 in requested funds this year. “The thing that most struck me has been the diverse ways in which “need” has been defined – both by my peers and by organizations.”

Ten organizations that received funding this year, including:

Art Van (Brunswick) to support art education programming to low-income and disadvantaged children.

Caring Resources for Living (North Yarmouth) to make possible the purchase of resources for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Coffin Elementary School (Brunswick) to provide four locally constructed benches to create a welcoming outdoor environment for students.

Freeport Middle School STEM Teacher (Freeport) to fund student construction of birdhouses for conservation and park lands in the Freeport area.

Riding to the Top (Windham) to provide scholarships to increase access for people with disabilities to therapeutic riding and support.

Seeds of Independence (Freeport, Brunswick, Topsham) to cover the costs of starting and maintaining student-to-student mentoring programs at three local high schools.

Sexual Assault Support Services of MidCoast Maine (Brunswick) to fund an experiential support group for female survivors of sexual violence.

Topsham Public Library (Topsham) to modify the library’s parking circle to improve handicapped access.

Trust for Our Future (Topsham) to sponsor Challenge Day at Mt. Ararat High School, a program that uses exercises and techniques designed to build bonds between students.

Youth Alternatives Ingraham (Portland) to provide mediation services in Brunswick, including the cost of travel, interpreters and publicizing services.

After meeting weekly through both the fall and spring semesters to discuss topics such as philanthropy and successful grant-writing, Grant Committee members spent over a month, culminating in a four hour-long Decision Day, deliberating about which proposals to fund. According to Sophie Kelmenson ’11,  “On Decision Day, we had a vision on how we wanted to contribute, but in direct service, you’re participating in someone else’s vision.  It was a great thought exercise in our role, as members of the Common Good Grant Committee and as Bowdoin students, in creating a more inclusive and healthier community.”

The Grant Committee’s decision-making was made easier by the efforts of the Extension Committee, which raised an additional $6,650 this year. Danielle Orchant ’14, a member of the Grant Committee, lauded the work of the Extension Committee: “Philanthropy is the behind-the-scenes work – without it, the direct service wouldn’t happen.” For members of the Extension Committee, the sometimes uncomfortable work of asking for donations from community members was a learning experience. Rachel Gang ’11 explained, “the Extension Committee really has to convince themselves.  You have to believe that philanthropy is important service.”

Ultimately, the goal of both Committees is for students to learn about the needs of the greater Brunswick community and about how those needs are being addressed. In the words of one student, “As someone who has always been involved in direct service, I now realize that my own two hands can only go so far. Sometimes a financial contribution or philanthropy can make even more of a difference and go beyond what direct service can do. As I look ahead at my future beyond Bowdoin, I know I can return to what I have learned as a member of the Common Good Grant Committee.”

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"As someone who has always been involved in direct service, I now realize that my own two hands can only go so far."

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