Joseph McKeen
Center for the Common Good

Local Philanthropy and the Common Good: Student Committee Distributes $17,850

Story posted April 30, 2012

This April, the Common Good Grant Program concluded a year-long venture into the world of foundations and non-profits with an awards ceremony featuring the presentation of nine grants, totaling $17,850, 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 students had learned over the course of the year. As one non-profit representative remarked, “The ceremony is a fantastic opportunity not only to see what the students have been undertaking for the past year but also to see the diverse and meaningful work that other non-profits in the local community are doing.”

Since 2001, an anonymous donor’s gift has provided $10,000 each year for members of the student-run Common Good Grant Committee to disburse in grants of up to $2,500 to organizations serving the greater Brunswick area. The Committee’s mission is to 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 Development Committee. To date, the Committee has granted upwards of $160,000 to area non-profits. The Request for Proposals issued by the Committee this past November drew 27 grant applications totaling over $54,000 in requested funds. As one student remarked, “The thing that most struck me about this program has been the broad definition of the Common Good. It has been made apparent to me through participating in this program, both by my fellow Committee members as well as the work that local organizations do, that there are many ways to serve the Common Good.”

Nine organizations received funding this year, including:

  • American Cancer Society (Topsham) will support the “Road to Recovery” gas card incentive and volunteer driver recruitment program.

  • Bath Housing Development (Bath) will support the “Life Balance Project” providing classes to increase physical, social, and mental stimulation of elderly residents.

  • Brunswick Topsham Land Trust (Brunswick and Topsham) will support the launch of the “Tom Settlemire Community Garden” at Crystal Spring Farm.

  • Center for Therapeutic Recreation (Portland) will provide funding for an adapted aquatics program for children with disabilities.

  • Neighborhood Cafe (Bath) will fund the purchase of tables and chairs to expand the capacity for its weekly community events on Tuesday evenings.

  • Tedford Housing (Brunswick) will cover the costs of providing outreach case management services to adults and families.

  • Tri-County Literacy (Bath) will cover the cost of purchasing a series of leveled textbooks and new reader dictionaries to be used during adult literacy classes.

  • Volunteers of America (Brunswick) will expand the outreach of the CA$H Coalition Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

  • Women, Work, and Community (Bath) will cover the cost of starting the “Where the Jobs Are” workshop series for unemployed adults.

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 reading the grant applications for this year, culminating in a four hour-long Decision Day, deliberating about which proposals to fund. According to one member, “I was expecting tough deliberation and that's exactly what I got. I'm very grateful to have had the [preparation] before Decision Day, because without [it], I might have become overwhelmed. Fortunately, the opportunity gave me the chance to be critical and thoughtful in decision making.”

The Grant Committee’s decision-making was made easier by the efforts of the Development Committee, which raised an additional $7,825 this year. Danielle Orchant ’14, a member of the Development Committee, lauded the generosity of the donors: “Philanthropy is the behind-the-scenes work – without it, the direct service wouldn’t happen.” For members of the Development Committee, the sometimes uncomfortable work of asking for donations from community members was a learning experience. As Co-Leader Matthew Hillard ’12 explains, “One mantra that representatives from the Development Office at Bowdoin stressed to us was the art and importance of matching the passions of the donors with the needs of a local organization. Viewing a donation as such makes the task of asking for money less awkward and more meaningful.”

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, “This program promised and delivered on the ambitious goal of breaking down the invisible barrier that exists between the College and the greater Brunswick community through exposing to me and my fellow committee members both the needs of the local community and in what ways local organizations are addressing those needs.”

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