The Mission and History of the Brooksville Education Foundation
The purpose of the Brooksville Education Foundation (BEF) is to expand educational opportunities for the residents of Brooksville, Maine. To accomplish this, BEF will solicit donations and provide grants that support: early childhood education; program enrichment for Brooksville elementary and high school students; scholarships for Brooksville residents of any age to help further their education beyond high school; matching funds for educational grants from other institutions which further the purposes of BEF; and such other requests as are consistent with its purpose.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, the generic use of the term “college” on this website shall refer to any post-secondary course of study leading to a degree or certificate from an accredited institution of higher learning upon completion.
The Brief History Of An Idea: A Decade of Progress
by Michael McMillen (Reprinted from 2010 Newsletter)
The 10th anniversary of the Foundation seems an appropriate occasion to reflect on how time and experience have shaped both our thinking about and our practice of supporting post-secondary education in Brooksville. In order for our work to be successful we need not only your financial support but also your thoughts and suggestions for improvement. All segments of the community provide us with financial support and can, we hope, also provide us with guidance on improving our focus and effectiveness. The more informed you are about our work and our thinking the more helpful your suggestions can be. If you have an idea or comment for us, drop us a note. Or pick up the phone and call one of our board members any time. This is a longer than usual narrative for our newsletter, but a lot happens in ten years. We thank you for your interest and always for your support.
Trees From Acorns
Eleven years ago my friend Gerry Bryant, a passionate educator, and a consultant to the Brooksville Elementary School at the time, asked me if I would help start a foundation to underwrite off-budget items for program enrichment at the school. Being on the school board at the time and seeing multiple opportunities at the school for creative supplemental funding, I agreed, never thinking at the time how this initial concept would grow and evolve.
A Home at the Maine Community Foundation
Successful models existed in Blue Hill and Deer Isle. I consulted with Siebert Brewer, the chairman of the Deer Isle Foundation. The one invaluable piece of advice he gave was, “People starting a philanthropic fund around here would be brain dead not to work with the Maine Community Foundation.” Not wanting to appear “brain dead”, we took his advice. We organized ourselves as a “community interest fund” at the Maine Community Foundation and have had a productive relationship with them ever since. Because the MCF takes care of the business side of running our funds, our local board has been free to concentrate on supporting educational aspirations and achievement within the community. It is an ideal division of labor and resources aimed at achieving a common goal, the betterment of our communities through education.
Our Mission Emerges
Our original board had 15 members drawn from all corners of the community. After several meetings we realized that the greatest interest and need in the community was not in the elementary school, which has always been generously supported with tax revenues. Rather, it was in increasing access to higher education by helping to offset its considerable and growing cost. Our role as the primary source of scholarship funds for the Brooksville community began to take shape.
Named Funds: A Bridge Between Generations
Early in our planning we felt that it was important to tie this new venture to the Brooksville community in some inspirational and particular way that people could relate to on a human level. We found that inspiring model in the story of Maryann Snow Bates and her life journey from high school dropout to university professor. We approached her family for permission to memorialize Maryann in this way. Taking a chance on the uncertain success of our fledgling venture, they graciously assented. Frank Snow even served on our initial board of trustees. The fund named after Maryann continues as our flagship, general-purpose fund. The majority or our scholarships are paid annually from this fund.
Auspiciously, the same year we began, a family that had known Isabel Condon for many years stepped forward to establish a scholarship fund in honor of her long life and teaching career. We were deeply honored and gratified to have been chosen to conduct the scholarship selection process for that fund in conjunction with the Maine Community Foundation.
Since that time, additional donors have stepped forward to endow memorial scholarship funds under the same arrangement. Family and friends of Phyllis Ames Cox endowed a scholarship fund in her name in 2009. Friends of Faye Austin Cosentino (see article) endowed a scholarship fund in her name in 2010.
Though different from each other in many respects, each of these women in their own way led notable lives that serve as models for future generations. The funds established in their names have a stated preference for helping students following in their footsteps. The “Isabel Fund” is earmarked for students earning degrees in education; the “Phyllis Fund” for students earning degrees in veterinary sciences or foreign relations; and the “Faye Fund” for students earning degrees in nursing or history.
In addition, the Foundation has been selected to administer a scholarship funded annually from weekly collections of the congregation of Our Lady of the Evergreens Chapel. This is a seasonal Episcopal chapel located on Dog Island Point that was established decades ago by the late Rev. Sewall Emerson. It is attended regularly by Rev. Emerson’s extended family and their neighbors.
We are confident that more “named” funds honoring both individuals and local institutions will follow eventually in the wake of those already established. They form an inspirational bridge between past and future generations of the community. Notably absent from the current “honor role” are the many men who have served the town well throughout their lives. The names of Kip Leach and Jimmy Littlefield come readily to mind as candidates.
One of the cruel ironies of college funding aid is that grants become scarcer the closer students come to earning their degrees. To redress this situation we felt at the outset a moral obligation to help our students through to the conclusion of their studies. Initially our policy was to renew scholarships up to three times. Over time we have relaxed this standard in recognition of the reality that six years is now the average taken in the US to complete “four year” bachelor degrees.
We regard our relationship with students as a kind of “adoption” and, as with real parenting, there are always twists and turns along the way. We have had students switch schools and majors. We have had students drop out of school only to return in subsequent years. We have had students take more than the prescribed time to complete degrees. We have had students complete double majors. We have had students extend their studies for advanced degrees or earn two associates degrees. In each instance our support has followed these students to the end of their studies. And we are proud of each and everyone with them.
Accept All Applicants (But Verify the Need):
Initially we viewed our role as that of selecting the most promising and needy candidates from a pool of applicants. This is not a bad model. It is one followed by the Mitchell Foundation, as well as many other first rate scholarship organizations in Maine and around the country. In our first year we declined two applicants in a pool of ten candidates because their academic success in high school had been weak and their vision of college seemed immature.
They proved us wrong. One of these girls later graduated from a good college without our aid. This experience was a painful but important lesson for us. Through it we came to appreciate that we were in the business of helping students not of judging them.
For many of our applicants, especially for those who are first in their families to attend college, just getting into college is an accomplishment in itself. We concluded that it would not serve the larger mission of promoting education within the community to second-guess the commitment of our applicants or the judgment of the colleges that had accepted them.
This insight has shaped our policy. From our second year on, we have funded all who have applied to us for aid. However, we don’t do so automatically.
When students first apply to us, we require them to submit an extensive application. They must be residents of Brooksville and be enrolled in a degree granting school. We document their achievements in high school, their work experience and community service. In order to asses their financial condition, we require a copy of the financial aid letter from the school they are attending as well as the cover of their FAFSA form, which states the US Department of Education’s assessment of the family’s ability to pay for education (EFC or “expected family contribution”). We ask each student for an essay describing their educational goals and how our scholarship would help them.
Our full board reads and evaluates each application. If documents are missing or if they require clarification we have students provide that to us. Based on combined factors of educational achievement, work and community service, and financial need we then make a decision on each applicant.
However, in every case before us we have found the applicants worthy of our aid. All demonstrated good character. Many had unique personal triumphs or achievements. To a greater or lesser degree, all had need for financial support.
In the most extreme cases there is a “gap” between all financial resources available to the student (including grants, loans and the family’s Expected Financial Contribution as determined by the government) on the one hand and the cost of college attendance on the other. Sometimes this “gap” is small enough that our scholarship helps to close it in a meaningful way. Occasionally the “gap” is a chasm, so large that the student has to defer college or find a cheaper alternative.
Where there is no gap in a student’s funding, we look at the amount of total aid provided to the student that is in the form of subsidized and unsubsidized loans. The amounts we see range from 10-100% of aid packages. The average is around 40%. This means, that the typical student attending the University of Maine will graduate with school debts of $25-$30,000. That is a heavy burden for someone just starting out in life, especially if they are going into a service field such as education, health care, or food service. Our scholarships help to reduce that burden by reducing the amount of money students have to borrow to complete school.
Simply stated, we have received no applications to date were the financial need of a student was zero, so we have helped them all.
“Lifting All Boats”
This change in outlook implied a shift in our mission as well, from one solely of helping individuals to one of promoting the educational aspirations of the community. We are all aware that education and economic opportunity are closely linked in the modern world. Increasingly the educational attainment of a community becomes its economic destiny as well. By building a community-based source of funding for post-secondary education, available to everyone in Brooksville, we aim to “lift all boats,” through educational opportunity. It is still too early to tell whether our presence in the community is encouraging the parents of young children to direct them at an early age toward the eventual pursuit of post-secondary education. At this point we can only hope.
However, one possible indicator of our success is the increase we have seen the past few years in the number of “non-traditional” applicants (e.g. adults returning to school). Some of these have been people preparing for careers after raising families. Others have been people redirecting or advancing careers. Given current economic circumstances we would expect both trends to continue and possibly to increase.
“Priming the Pump”:
Our focus on the educational attainment of the community has led us to look down the educational ladder at opportunities to prepare young people for later success in higher education. Since Brooksville has no high school of its own we have directed our program enrichment grants at the town’s elementary school (see guest column). We regard these efforts in elementary education as important “pumping priming” for later success of students in high school and beyond.
Rising to the Challenge:
We offered our first scholarships to students graduating from high school in the spring of 2001. We had ten applicants. Donors to our first fund raising appeal had proven to be exceptionally generous. As a result we felt we were in a position to award 8 scholarships of $1,000 each and to renew them in succeeding years.
Since then we experienced both a steady flow of donations to the Foundation and a steady increase in the demand for scholarship aid. The number of applications we now receive annually is in the mid-20s to low-30s. For instance, we awarded 26 scholarships for the 2010-2011 academic year.
In 2008 we were able to increase the average size of our scholarships to $1,250. The generosity of our donors has allowed us to disburse a total of $217,000 in scholarship aid over the past ten years, or an average of $21,700 per year. This is a record Brooksville can be proud of.