Published May 10, 2021 by Rebecca Goldfine

Common Good Grant Program Turns Twenty, Students Give Away Record Amount

Bowdoin's Common Good Grant program (CGG) is twenty years old this year. Acting much like a foundation, students in the program solicit donations and award grants to local nonprofits, learning both about philanthrophy and the greater Brunswick community in the process.
From left to right: Tom Ancona, Chanel Matthews ’21, and Ryan Telingator ’21. The 2021 Common Good Grants awards ceremony was hybrid this year, with guests and some students online and the rest of the students gathering in person in Main Lounge.

An anonymous donor from the Class of 1964 established CGG in 2001 with an original gift of $10,000. (That fund later became an endowed gift that generates at least $10,000 annually.) The donor hoped the exercise of giving would inspire students to commit to a lifetime of philanthropy, as well as teach them the ways local charities support communities, often on tight budgets.

Since the program's inception, more than 300 students have participated. Those students have raised $107,134 and given $326,426 in grants to 173 community nonprofits. 

Twenty-eight students participated in the 2021 program—a record number, according to Associate Director of the McKeen Center Tom Ancona, who advises CGG. The mix of first-years, sophomores, juniors, and seniors raised $15,000 from forty-one donors, adding it to the $12,500 they received from the CGG endowment. This enabled them to give away the most funds to date—just over $27,000, divided among eleven organizations.  

In this unprecedented year, students made a point of giving some of the money to organizations addressing anti-racism. And they permanently added the new category of justice, equity, and anti-racism to their previously established funding "buckets" of arts, history, and culture; health and basic needs; adult and youth education and development; and environment, agriculture, and sustainability.

This ensures that students support at least one nonprofit advancing racial justice in Maine, CGG coleader Ryan Telingator ’21 explained. "The decision was largely stimulated by the murder of George Floyd and growing national consensus that America had to reckon with the racism that permeated all aspects of the country," he said.

The Common Good Grant program has evolved in many other ways over the last two decades, most significantly growing from a one-day retreat to a yearlong educational seminar. 

Susie Dorn, a former director of the McKeen Center and currently a major gifts officer for Princeton University, was the guest speaker at this year's awards ceremony. She likened the Common Good Grant program to a professional foundation, one that fosters connections. "A group of students come together to learn about the impact organizations are making in the community and to invite others to join them in supporting those efforts," she said.

Students selected into the program begin meeting weekly in the fall. Guest speakers, including local professionals and Bowdoin alumni, attend some of these sessions to talk about nonprofit missions, grant writing, development, or what it is like working in the sector. 

"From sitting in on panels about current issues in midcoast Maine to conducting site visits with organizations, we have been lucky enough to get to know this community," CGG coleader Chanel Matthews ’21 said.

Organizations can apply for grants if they provide services within twenty miles of Brunswick or are a host site for Bowdoin's orientation trips. 

In the ceremony, students announced the eleven grant recipients. Below are excerpts from their remarks:

Bath Area Backpack Program

Aidan Reid ’24: "The organization provides food-insecure students in the Bath/RSU 1 area with healthy meals for them and their loved ones. Founded in 2014 and initially feeding roughly ten students, the organization now reaches nearly 200 students in the area. The Common Good Grant will be used to purchase food for weekly and weekend food bags at three elementary schools, fund on-site food pantries at local middle and high schools, and deliver snacks and meals through the Bath YMCA and Midcoast Youth Center. 

The CGG committee had the opportunity to meet with board members last month. This meeting demonstrated the continued need within the community. It also displayed the organization's ability to adjust in order to fill the gaps in times of virtual learning in Bath schools. They have distributed prepackaged meals and set up pantries at local community centers in their continued effort to fight food insecurity in the region." 

College Guild

Kenya Mathieu ’23: "For the past twenty years, College Guild has assisted in prison education and prison reform. One of the main focuses of the organization is educating imprisoned students and providing them with free correspondence courses that help foster mutual respect and ultimately mitigate recidivism rates. 

With this Common Good Grant, College Guild can continue to support incarcerated students all over the United States. The grant will cover the cost of postage for incarcerated students for the next eight months. By receiving mail while in prison, students are able to begin the healing process. Support and community are both extremely important for mental health, so having this kind of program only helps to strengthen students’ mental well-being. College Guild is extremely important to the Brunswick community and has been able to provide education for over 8,000 students over the last twenty years." 

Family and Community Mediation

Jackson Coyle ’23: "Family and Community Mediation is a conflict resolution source for individuals, families, community groups, housing organizations, and the agricultural community across Maine. Participants often seek resolution of a variety of issues—such as family or coparenting conflicts—security of financial/basic needs, or strategies to manage stress, anger, and conflict. Their goal is to expand access to affordable mediation services for the communities of Maine and beyond.

Our grant this year will help Family and Community Mediation expand to our very own community of Brunswick, Maine. This funding will provide twenty-five families with mediation services at no cost to them, in the hope that individuals involved will find new ways of talking, listening, and resolving problems, all resulting in improved relationships."

Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities

Sophia Pantzer ’24: "Gardeners Growing Healthy Communities maintains two gardens, one in Rumford and one in South Paris. Both produce high-quality produce and give it to those in need throughout western Oxford County. They have a dedicated set of longstanding volunteers. The Rumford garden has forty-seven beds, and there are twenty-one beds in South Paris, so there is quite a lot to attend to. The Rumford garden was the first to start, when retired mill workers talked to the mill administration and were able to make resourceful use of a vacant lot. I think GGHC’s origin story is very representative of the values of this organization and why it stood out so much to us. Not only does the organization have a positive impact on their patrons, but also on their volunteers and on the environment. 

As I listened to Bonnie speak during our site visit it was very clear that the organization is part of the fabric of the larger community, and its efforts have ripple effects. This grant specifically will allow for the replacement of old raised beds, the provision of vegetable seeds, compost, fertilizer, soil amendments, wheelbarrows, and all the basic materials needed to carry out their mission of providing high-quality produce for the hungry."

Harpswell Aging at Home

Hayden Redelman ’24: "A grassroots organization created, maintained, and led by older Harpswell residents, Harpswell Aging at Home has served the Harpswell community by providing low-cost or no-cost support systems and services to residents since its founding in 2015—including its popular Lunch with Friends program.

With the help of this grant, Harpswell Aging At Home will continue to gather residents for meals and fellowship this fall and winter, both addressing food insecurity and nurturing a community that helps Harpswell thrive. Amidst the pandemic, Harpswell Aging at Home remained steadfast in its commitment to delivering free and healthy meals to those who need it. Through their “Meals to Go” program, Harpswell Aging at Home abided by stringent health precautions to ensure those they served kept receiving the meals they depend on while also protecting them from the virus. Grant funds will be used to help pay for the food coordination consultant that makes these programs so successful."     

Maine Inside Out

JuliaKay Fiori ’24: "Maine Inside Out is an organization operating out of Portland that works to promote freedom and imagination, both through their community and individual art projects and also through their advocacy to support new modes of transformative justice. They work closely with formerly incarcerated youth in these projects and continually advocate for those currently incarcerated in Maine. Through their theater performances, they have been able to reach people from all across Maine, engaging them in discussions regarding youth justice and the lived experiences of formerly incarcerated youth. Their theater performances and other art projects provide a valuable space for formerly and currently incarcerated youth to connect with one another and explore the systems of oppression that have impacted their lives. 

With this grant money, Maine Inside Out will be able to provide much-needed stipends for the artists they work with for their open mic tour. They are looking to build upon this pilot program to create further ways to facilitate involvement in these communities for transformative art. Maine Inside Out will also be using this grant to increase technology access for those who want to make their programs more accessible for their members. 

I have been fortunate enough to see a Maine Inside Out theater presentation and I was—and still am— incredibly inspired by the simultaneous vulnerability and strength shown by each one of their artists. Maine Inside Out truly works to promote change in their community, within Maine, and with the world."  

Merrymeeting Food Council  

Dennil Erazo ’21: "The Merrymeeting Food Council was founded in 2015 as a program of KELT, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, and other partners seeking to solve food insecurity in communities around Maine. Since 2016, the Merrymeeting Food Council has created food access guides for fourteen towns, established sharing tables with free produce in six communities, increased winter availability to healthy local food, and, most importantly, built community wherever it went.

With a Common Good Grant, the Merrymeeting Food Council will develop a Farms Skills Training pilot program that provides employment opportunities for up to ten Brunswick residents. The grant will fund stipends for each candidate and provide transportation to the farm, and a small portion will be available to those participants that find housing outside of Brunswick. This program is particularly important in helping residents stay financially afloat during this pandemic. More importantly, the program is meant to uplift Brunswick residents by giving them the knowledge and accessibility to their own agricultural means. Not only is the Merrymeeting Food Council mission a short-term solution to a current crisis, but a long-term investment for a community in need of better food accessibility and job opportunities."

Midcoast Literacy

Lily Tedford ’22: "Midcoast Literacy has been supporting and building literacy skills in children and adults since 1970. With a dedicated base of seventy-five volunteers, Midcoast Literacy has been able to offer personalized tutoring sessions, family literacy sessions in local Head Start programs, and free children’s books to low-income families in the area. 

With this Common Good Grant, Midcoast Literacy will continue to support its Read with Me programs. The grant will provide funding for staff wages, the purchasing and distribution of over 1,000 children’s books, and literacy educational programs for 136 young children, ages zero through five, and their adult family members in Read with Me classrooms across the midcoast region.  

Midcoast Literacy supports the children, adults, and families it serves with skills that will last them a lifetime and which will ultimately create more opportunities and paths to success, especially for students and clients who may have started out at a disadvantage." 

Patten Free Library

Sydney Starks ’24: "When the library had passed the Letters of Intent phase, I knew that it was one of the virtual site visits I wanted to join. In less than an hour, I was charmed by the library and I was inspired by the work it was currently doing and plans they had for the future.

The Common Good Grant money will fund Patten Free Library’s pilot book delivery program. Serving five Maine communities, this service will help alleviate transportation and mobility barriers to education for numerous community members. By creating a sustainable solution to address the issue of patrons’ age, disability, or other conditions that impede library access, Patten Free Library’s grant falls within our Health and Basic Needs bucket."

Tedford Housing

Sara Morcos ’24: I have the honor tonight of introducing Tedford Housing, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering people to move from homelessness to homes, and presenting them with a grant. Tedford Housing will be using the grant money to fund a personal development desk at their adult shelter. This desk will include a desktop computer, desk, and chair for individuals living at the shelter to use. This resource will allow guests to complete job applications, résumés, finish their degrees, and conduct virtual interviews.

I am very excited about the work that Tedford Housing will be doing to help break down barriers for their guests so that they can thrive in their communities! Congratulations, Tedford Housing!"   

Through These Doors

Charlotte Gehrs ’24: "Through These Doors is Cumberland County’s domestic violence resource center, serving survivors of domestic abuse, dating violence, stalking, and others affected by abuse. Since 1977, Through These Doors has supported the community through an emergency shelter, support and education groups, and a twenty-four-hour help line, among other resources and initiatives. The prevalence of domestic violence has increased in the past year due to the isolation caused by the pandemic. Through These Doors has met these new and urgent needs by continuing many of its existing programs remotely, including its support group.  

With a Common Good Grant, Through These Doors will improve the accessibility of its remote support group and establish an unrestricted victims’ fund for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Headphones will be provided to survivors to access the group confidentially and securely. Additionally, Through These Doors will give children of group members age-appropriate educational resources through activity books and mini-magazines. 

The unrestricted funds will help meet survivors’ basic needs. The funds may be used for food, heating, changing locks, rental assistance, or other needs. The Common Good Grant Committee is delighted to support Through These Doors in its important work to both support and create community for survivors of abuse."