College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

University of Southern Maine Students Award $17,000 to Portland Area Non-Profits

Four Portland area non-profits have several thousand dollars more for their various projects this holiday season because of a unique class at the University of Southern Maine (USM). 

Focusing on the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of children and youth, students in the “Thoughtful Giving: Philanthropy in American Culture” course on Tuesday awarded $17,000 to the four non-profits – Opportunity Alliance, Rippleffect, The Root Cellar and the Friends of Evergreen – during a reception held on the Portland campus. 

The funds were provided to the class through a four-year grant of $40,000 from the Learning By Giving Foundation, funded by the Buffet family, which promotes the teaching of effective charitable giving. Additional matching funds of $9,000 over the past two years were provided by donors affiliated with the Maine Community Foundation. 

The class, taught by Dorothy Schwartz, former executive director of Maine Humanities Council and a member of the USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHS) Advisory Board, and Adam Tuchinsky, USM professor of history and CAHS associate dean, is the only one of its kind offered at a public university in Maine and is one of 37 programs in the U.S. 

It is the second time that the course has been offered at the university. Last year, course students donated $12,000 to four Portland area organizations. The course will again be offered next fall semester at USM. 

CAHS Dean Lynn Kuzma, addressing students, recipients and guests, called the class “a signature program for the college,” adding that the course in particular was “dear to my heart.” She said the course was the result of a collaborative effort with community partners and represented the basic mission of USM.

“USM is vital to the community,” said Kuzma, “and the community is vital to USM.” 

The class combined theoretical and applied components, and like an increasing number of USM courses, included internships, co-ops, and service learning. The course in general uses the Portland region as a living laboratory. 

What makes this course unique in the roster of courses in the national Learning By Giving program is that it combines a humanities-based curriculum with “practical” skills, according to its instructors. 

“What I find exciting,” Tuchinsky commented later, “is that this format makes it possible to see the connection between the skills they are acquiring in fields such as history, philosophy and literature to the world of non-profits that are hard at work trying to solve difficult social problems.” 

During the semester-long class, the students had to create a mission statement and determine the type of grants they would award, the geographical area to serve and what groups would be potential recipients. They then wrote eight grant proposals, with the final recipients decided upon by the class as a whole. 

Schwartz noted during the reception that the students, who made presentations during the reception, “had to struggle with the real-life experience” of making philanthropic donations. 

“It was tough, it was hard, and I think they came out feeling pretty good about it,” Schwartz said. 

Guest speakers to the class provided professional perspectives on philanthropy and charitable giving. The guest speakers were: Meredith Jones, Maine Community Foundation; Carol Wishcamper, non-profit consultant and philanthropist; Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of the United Way of Portland; State Rep. Erick Jorgenson (D-Portland); and Carolyn Wollen, Betterment Fund, Bethel, Maine.

The recipients and their projects were:

  • Opportunity Alliance of Portland, a 40-year-old organization that serves more than 20,000 people through 50 integrated community based and clinical programs, received $5,000 for the construction of a new playground at the Westbrook Community Center;
  • Rippleffect, a Portland-based non-profit community development organization that promotes leadership and environmental awareness in youth, received $5,000 for R.O.L.E., an after-school program that will be run out of Lincoln Middle School next fall;
  • The Root Cellar, of Portland and Lewiston, a Christian mission with the goal of working with inner-city youth and their families, received $2,000 for a pilot program promoting entrepreneurship amongst new Mainers. The USM Business School’s Enactus student organization will help implement the grant.
  • And the Friends of Evergreen, which renovates and restores Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, received $5,000 for a broad range of capital improvements and to support a program for young people to learn about local history

Students who wrote the winning grants were:

  • For Opportunity Alliance: Andrew Kalloch, South Portland; Douglas Harding, Portland.
  • For Rippleffect: Silas Miller, Harpswell; Elizabeth Ash, West Kennebunk.
  • For The Root Cellar: Ryan Seward, Port Jefferson Station, New York; Johnathon Young, Cushing, Maine.
  • For Friends of Evergreen: Henry Brown, Falmouth; Darryl Quinlan, Westbrook.

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