November 28, 2014

REAL School receives endowment grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine - By Elizabeth Richards

An exciting award from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine will assist RSU14s REAL School in continuing to provide a meaningful and positive educational experience to their students. Last week, the school learned that they had received a $100,000 endowment grant through the foundation’s Large Grants Program.
A team of dedicated professionals from the school put together the grant last spring, with the hopes of setting up an endowment fund to support the schools ongoing service learning projects and Teen Aspirations Program (TAP), said Principal Pender Makin. 

Never having requested this type of funding previously, and not knowing what the upper limits might be, they were dreaming big, said Makin, submitting a request for $1,000,000. “We were delighted when they agreed to fund us at all, for a very generous $100,000,” said Makin.

This award will create an endowment fund, and the proceeds from this fund each year will support activities such as the annual Dominican Republic medical relief and clean water expedition and the sea turtle conservation project. These more expensive service learning opportunities require ongoing fundraising, and are an essential element of the REAL School experience. 

Makin said that one of the concerns that prompted the application is that while the school is funded to provide the basics of education, all of the things that make the school a one of a kind educational community require constant fundraising, grant writing, soliciting private donations, and even selling their expertise to other agencies and school districts. “It takes almost an additional full time job to keep a funding engine going,” said Makin. 

TAP is another program that will be supported in part by the proceeds of the endowment fund. This is a curriculum that allows students to think about their strengths, interests and hopes for the future. 

“Sadly, many of the kids come to our school without much in the way of aspirations,” said Makin. “It’s very difficult to engage a person in the level of self improvement we’re asking our kids to engage in here when they don’t really see a positive, bright future for themselves.” TAP not only allows them to explore their interests, but also matches students with mentors and internships so they can experience these activities first hand. Currently, the program is funded by a private donor, and provides for a diverse range of needs, including such things as clothing for a job interview or scholarships for post-secondary education. 

The endowment award won’t eliminate the need for fundraising, but Makin anticipates that it will bring a couple thousand dollars per year to put towards these programs. “It will alleviate some of the pressure and it will make more opportunities available to our kids,” she said. 

One of the goals now is to leverage the generosity of the Next Generation Foundation to encourage other organizations to match the award or contribute to the endowment fund, Makin said. “We think of it as an incredibly good start on something that can get bigger each year.”

Makin said they are incredibly grateful for the time the trustees spent visiting the school and for the award. She added that it’s a great feeling to know that the team who put the grant proposal together has created something with lasting impact. “We’re giving a gift to the REAL School and all of the REAL School kids who are going to come along in the future,” she said.

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