St. Mary’s Community Fund: The Student-Run Foundation at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis

[St. Mary’s Episcopal School] In 1998, the St. Mary’s Community Fund was formed by a group of St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis, Tennessee, students who received $1,000 from a female trustee to form a student philanthropic organization. Although St. Mary’s girls did lots of community service, they had never really demonstrated their support through actual dollars until the SMCF.

The purpose of the SMCF is to educate young women about the importance of philanthropy through hands-on community service, fundraising, and grant making. The 30-member committee of students in grades eight through twelve raises money throughout the year and presents grants to organizations helping Mid-South children. Students meet with individuals to request donations, visit funded agencies, ask fellow students for donations, and visit past and potential organizations. The first year, the SMCF presented $2,000, but over the past decade, it has granted more than $188,000 to 33 different children’s charities.

The SMCF base of support continues to increase as more members of our community discover the Community Fund and what it is doing. The SMCF sells assignment books annually to Upper School students and added a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sale last fall. The annual Kiss the Turkey competition, always a favorite among students, featured SMS administrators vying for a chance to kiss the St. Mary’s mascot during chapel before Thanksgiving. Another annual fundraiser is the Thanks-A-Million change drive, which involves every student in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grades. Last year, the SMCF started a new fundraiser, a dance for grade seven and eight students from several different independent schools. A portion of the proceeds from the Sophomore Class’ Annual Sisterhood Crafts Fair benefited the SMCF as well. Half of the funds raised by the SMCF are from personal donations from St. Mary’s alumnae, parents, and friends of the school.

The committee maintains a close connection to the funded agencies through community service activities and a follow-up report due in the fall. Last October, the SMCF hosted an Agency Fair where Upper School students met agency representatives and signed up to volunteer. Both agencies and students appreciated this opportunity. In addition, monthly chapel speakers from funded agencies educate the student body and share the impact the SMCF is making at their organization.

The grants process is similar to that of other foundations and grant-making organizations. Each December, requests for proposals and grant applications are sent to local agencies that serve children. These agencies include those that have been funded in the past and new agencies that have been suggested or requested an application. The grant applications are due in early February. After receiving the application, each committee member reviews a grant and presents her findings to the committee, which then individually ranks the agencies. The top 15 agencies receive a site visit, where committee members can see the agency first-hand and meet with staff and program directors. The grant recipients are chosen from this group, the number depending on the amount of money that has been raised that year.

The SMCF has changed its philosophy in recent years—instead of partially funding more projects, it makes a bigger impact by fully funding projects. In 2009, $30,562 was granted to eight Mid-South charities for the following projects:

  • Agape Child & Family Services—Kids in Transition: $5,000
  • Bridges—Future Builders: $5,000
  • Church Health Center—Reading Activity Area for Children: $3,562
  • Hope House—Play Therapy: $5,000
  • Memphis Oral  School for the Deaf—Susuki Violin Program: $2,500
  • Methodist Hospice—Camp Bravehearts Family Grief Camp: $500
  • Refugee Empowerment Program—After School/Summer Program: $5,000
  • Street Ministries—Summer Institute: $4,000