Changing the world can be simple. Inspiration, a legacy.
AU’s Eagle Endowment for Public and Community Service celebrated its 10th anniversary this week, commemorating years of investing energy and resources in the simple notion that students’ ideas for social change ought to be taken seriously, and moreover, brought to fruition through funding.
The endowment’s story was prefaced with one young woman’s impulse to pluck good from tragedy. Kim Williams, a 2001 AU graduate, was rocked by the deaths of two loved ones within two months’ time. “It really made me pause and evaluate my life. I decided I wanted to make the most of life and that I wanted to leave some sort of legacy,” she explains. “When I found out that it was possible to build a playground in a day, I knew that is what I wanted to do.”
Rallying students across campus, Williams raised the necessary $34,000 and gathered 400 volunteers to build a playground between Simon Elementary and Hart Middle Schools in Washington, D. C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. “I was known as the playground girl,” she remembers.
Today, the bright colors of the playground still stand at Sixth Street and Mississippi Avenue, S.E., a testament to Williams’s impact on the D.C. community.
The first chapter of the endowment’s story begins and ends with Williams, playground completed, $12,500 leftover from the project. Upon graduation, she delivered a check in that amount to the university. In coming years, others would take up the baton.
Rick Evanchec, a 2002 grad was among a number of students who thought, “We should do something with this money.” Led by an enthusiastic Evanchec, who now serves as an FBI Special Agent, a team of students set to raise the $50,000 required by the university to create an endowment. By spring of 2002, they had raised $58,000.
“The spirit to give back will never die,” explained Evanchec, “but we were able to give funds to support that in perpetuity.”
In the 2002–2003 academic year, the Eagle Endowment, operating out of the Center for Community Engagement and Service, was the first initiative of its kind nationally and began awarding grants to students and student clubs demonstrating a need for the seed money to propel service ideas into action.
Between 2004 and 2006, the endowment surpassed the $100,000 mark, with funds raised by students like Mark Seaman through class gifts, fund raisers, and donations from Bon Appetit in the form of student meal swipe donations. Seaman, now development director at the nonprofit Philadelphia Fight, explains “It works like a lot of the nonprofit community operates. It’s sort a real world thing right at AU.”
The Endowment Today
At the anniversary celebration Monday, endowment founders were reflective, but enthusiastic about what’s to come. Speaking to this year’s spring grant recipients, Evanchec was encouraging, “When we talk about that next great chapter for the endowment, that next great chapter is one that you are writing right now.”
That chapter is one that is making meaningful impacts throughout the greater D.C. community. Dr. Cynthia Flynn, general director of the Family Health and Birth Center (FHBC), works to improve the health of mothers and children in the District—at a time when infant mortality in D.C. is the worst among the 50 states and lags behind most developed countries.
Kate Greubel and Kelsey Cardwell were among AU volunteers who painted FHBC for their MLK Day of Service. Impressed by Flynn and her work, they wrote a proposal and applied for seed money for their Stay-Awake-a-Thon, a fund raiser this spring to support FHBC.
“What started as three people on a Saturday, became so much more. They were able to include all those other students, and really were able to make more of that original impulse to help us,” said Flynn. “Prior to this, we had no relationship with AU. Now we do.” She joked, “Now we’re best friends.”
Through the all-night fund raiser, Greubel and Cardwell were able to raise $3,962 for FHBC. Flynn will put that funding toward prenatal costs for low-income women.
A Legacy of Service
It all started with a playground and the urge to make a lasting difference. This spring, the Endowment’s grants will support babes in mother’s arms, veterans, and survivors of war in the Ivory Coast. For 10 years, students have learned the grants process, how to create sustainable service ventures, and have carried those skills with them into the nonprofit, public, and private sectors. The endowment has made, and continues to make, this double impact in the lives of students as they serve and within the community they’ve come to call home.
At the anniversary celebration, Seaman quoted George Elliot, saying, “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world is immortal.” He smiled. Surely, this is what legacy is all about.