Campus News

Students Use Mini-Grant for Maximum Good

Story posted March 27, 2007

As winter slowly gives way to spring, and nature's beauty begins to emerge anew, a number of Bowdoin students can rejoice in having planted some seeds of hope.

The Winter Break Mini-Grant sent students off on a host of missions across the country and around the world. Anne Shields, Director of Fellowships and Scholarships, says an annual gift began in 2003, when Tom and Janet McKinley's son, Thomas McKinley '06, was a first-year student. "I love Bowdoin," says McKinley. "It was such an incredible place. We wanted to help the community and not just the students."

"People can make a profound impact on the community and on themselves in a short amount of time," says McKinley. He and his family donated $5,000 for the program. Participating students volunteer with non-profit community service organizations and use the money for such things as train fare, parking, lunch and supplies. "It's a way to remove the financial obstacles for students to do the kind of volunteering they want to do over break," says Shields.

Beth Colombo '07 volunteered at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Mass. The center provides community-based health care to people to live and work in the surrounding communities. Colombo split her time between the healthcare office and the Teen Clinic.

"This experience taught me some of the challenges that are involved in working with children from an underserved population," says Colombo. "The kids were wonderful, and many of them made incredible progress in the short time I was there."

Interested in the fusion of science and legislation, Benjamin Freedman '09 traveled to The Nature Conservancy's California headquarters in San Francisco. Freedman's research focused on the Klamath River Basin and the federal regulations that have diverted a portion of the river for irrigation use on farms in the northwest. He reviewed new programs that might help to monitor and restore fish levels on the Klamath River.

"Spending my time with The Nature Conservancy was unquestionably one of the richest experiences I've had, in that I was able to apply what I have learned in many of my courses while applying myself to a completely new area of study," says Freedman. "I was able to interact with lawyers, scientists, lobbyists, GIS specialists, and marketing specialists. I am excited to now take more courses that both reflect what I did at TNC and also contrast with my work, so as to build a stronger foundation for when it comes time to make decisions after Bowdoin."

Having grown up in New York City, Elizabeth Leiwant '08 says she knows firsthand it's a city of immense inequality. She volunteered at the Harlem Children's Zone, saying the work it does to mitigate that inequality with its mentoring programs, smart-parenting classes and anti-violence initiatives is crucial to maintaining a thriving society.

The Harlem Children's Zone, a pioneering community-based non-profit organization, is overseen by President and CEO Geoffrey Canada '74, who is renowned in his own right for exemplary leadership in public service.

The environment proved an enriching one for Leiwant. "Through my experience at Harlem Children's Zone, I learned a great deal about urban education, teaching, educational policy, and strategies for working with middle school students," says Leiwant. "It was a challenging experience and one I am happy to have had."

Elizabeth Lovell '07 and L.D. Lord '08 traveled to Guatemala City to work with the late humanitarian Hanley Denning '92 and her non-profit, Safe Passage, which offers support and resources to the children of families who make their living at the city dump. Denning was killed in an automobile accident in Guatemala City January 18, 2007.

Lord and Lovell say they're glad to have met Hanley Denning and to have been part of her incredible organization. "Hanley had an amazing vision and courageously took action to make it reality," says Lovell. "It is now up to us to carry on her work anyway we can." Lovell helped organize activities that encouraged children to express themselves through art.

Lord worked to educate social workers about the newly developed theories of addiction, as a high proportion of the children of Safe Passage face substance abuse problems.

Lord says her approach was to stick to short-term goals. "I clearly don't have the power or the influence to change the lives of these children by any means," says Lord. "But I'd like to think that I did have a positive influence by making some of them smile for a few hours over the course of the week."

Elizabeth Richardson '08 spent winter break in New York City working with Common Ground and the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen to learn how these non-profit organizations tackle homelessness. "[It] has really opened my mind and made me aware of the terrible state of our nation in terms of dealing with poverty and homelessness," says Richardson.

A passion for improving foreign policy dialogue coupled with an existing engagement in Bowdoin's Common Good Grant Committee inspired Dawn Riebeling '07 to work with the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation in Greenwich, Conn. Riebeling helped with administrative tasks and research in advance of the June 2007 New Orleans tour for the Youth Symphony for the United Nations.

"I am enthusiastic about the mission of FAF and feel that the internship gave me invaluable experience with non-profit operations in an immensely well-run, successful organization with a major impact," says Riebeling.

Fourteen students traveled to Lima, Peru, to work with the non-profit group Solidarity in Action. The students built a park that they say represents a sense of hope for the impoverished people living in the shantytown of Las Gardenias.

Bowdoin's women's hockey team spent winter break close to home and on a familiar surface. The women joined local volunteers at the Falmouth Ice Arena to coach, mentor and befriend young challenged skaters. The Adaptive Hockey Program is designed to be an outlet for special needs youths, so that they may get some exercise and experience what the Bowdoin women call "the fastest game on earth."

In the same spirit of helping others, dozens of students embarked on an Alternative Spring Break, coordinated by the Community Resource Service Center. Read the story.

While McKinley and his family fund the Winter Break Mini-Grant, Thomas McKinley '06 also funds the Summer Entrepreneurial/Community Service Grant which bears his name. These grants support Bowdoin students who are pursuing either significant entrepreneurial experiences or community service projects of their own design, anywhere in the world, in the summer after their sophomore year. Click here to read more.

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