Students in a new philanthropy course in the University of Virginia's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy awarded $100,000 in grants to seven Charlottesville-area nonprofits Tuesday at a luncheon in the Great Hall of Garrett Hall.
The grant funding was provided by the Once Upon A Time Foundation to encourage students to think about philanthropy, said the course instructor, Paul Martin, Batten's director of professional development and a former chair of the City of Charlottesville's Community Development Block Grant Task Force.
The 28 students, representing 17 majors from across the University, spent the semester deciding how to award this $100,000 – acting, in effect, like a miniature private philanthropic foundation, Martin said. Starting on the first day of class with 46 letters of inquiry from local charities, the students did research, site visits, interviews and other due diligence to whittle the field to seven organizations that work on poverty alleviation and youth development.
"We quickly all learned that giving away money is difficult," said Mary Kate Steinbeck, a fourth-year sociology major in in the College of Arts & Sciences. "Especially when you have 30 different voices of passion coming into the class with different ideas of how best to spend it."
Debating along the way "forced students to think critically about how to handle issues of poverty," Martin said. For instance, "is it more important to provide for after-school programs for students, or jobs programs for their parents, or to provide housing or financial services?" Such considerations pushed the students, Martin said, "to struggle through the moral and ethical dilemmas of how to do this wisely."
Ultimately, the students focused on assessing the proposals for their sustainability, long-term impact and whether they addressed the root causes of poverty or youth development, said Amara Warren, a third-year student majoring in political and social thought in the College.
At Tuesday's luncheon, giant checks were presented to the seven awardees:
• $20,000 to the African-American Teaching Fellows program, enabling them to hire additional fellows to teach in Charlottesville and Albemarle County schools.
• $10,000 to help Bank On launch in Charlottesville this fall. Bank On is a partnership with several local banks to provide mainstream banking services to those who currently rely on "fringe" banking and lending services like payday loans, which charge very high interest rates.
• $5,000 to the Community Investment Collaborative, which offers local small-business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs incremental loans tied to business training and mentoring.
• $15,000 to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville to support their redevelopment of the 100-acre Southwood Mobile Home Park.
• $20,000 to Helping Young People Evolve, known as HYPE, a free after-school program for local at-risk youth that combines homework tutoring, mentorship and boxing lessons.
• $15,000 to the Monticello Area Community Action Agency, known as MACAA, to expand their Back To Work job training program.
• $15,000 to the On Our Own recovery center and peer support program for those with mental health challenges.
The grant recipients expressed great appreciation for the funds. "This gift will have a profound impact on our organization," said Scott Guggenheimer, executive director of the African-American Teaching Fellows.
Receiving Habitat for Humanity's check, Katie Kellett, the local chapter's director of development, noted the shared dedication of all the nonprofits and how their work is "all of a piece. We're working together to make this a fair and just community."
"Looking around, so many of you have helped us get off the ground," said Wes Bellamy, an Albemarle High School teacher who created the HYPE program last year, whose own career shift into teaching was fostered by the African-American Teaching Fellows program.
"I'm amazed at the philanthropy and these students' desire to help those most in need in our community," said Karen Shepard, executive director of MACAA. "There is an underclass here in Charlottesville, and a lot of people aren't aware of how many people are living with dire needs that aren't being met."
– by Brevy Cannon