When Joan Velasquez learned that the Awesome Foundation opened a chapter in St. Paul, the co-founder of Mano a Mano — an organization dedicated to shipping discarded medical supplies to Bolivia — had an idea for what to do with a $1,000 Awesome grant.
Plant a pollinator garden.
It's not as incongruous as it seems.
"A main driver for us is protecting the natural environment. Ninety-five percent of [the medical supplies] we collect is heading to the landfill," Velasquez said of her request to fund a garden of native plants at Mano a Mano headquarters. "This grant is just a lovely thing. It allows us to combine the things that are central to us as an organization."
Started in 2009, the Awesome Foundation has 82 autonomous chapters in 13 countries that seek to plant seeds of positive change, one $1,000 grant at a time. The St. Paul chapter was launched in January by a group of 11 small local donors who wanted to create a "giving circle" that nurtures small-scale ideas that need a boost, said Su Yeager, one of the group's founders.
AwesomeStPaul started awarding grants in February and has awarded three $1,000 grants so far, Yeager said. The application deadline is the 28th of each month. Ideas seeking money in May must be submitted by Thursday.
The effort is not bankrolled by philanthropic foundations or nonprofits. Each of the chapter's 11 members contribute their own money.
"We're just a group of friends who know each other and want to turn a small amount of money into doing something positive," Yeager said.
Any idea that seeks to improve life in St. Paul — through the arts, education or social outreach — is eligible for a grant, she said. They will not give money to help budding authors or finance private businesses. And they won't fund personal travel or ideas not designed to help a lot of people.
Other recipients in St. Paul have been staff members at two of the city's public schools.
Katie Meier, the Makerspace teacher at Randolph Heights Elementary School, wanted her 425 students in kindergarten through fifth grade to graduate from paper and glue to create art with wood. To help teach basic woodworking skills, she needed to buy sanders, saws and drills.
Nicole Bierwerth, library media specialist at American Indian Magnet School in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul, got a grant to buy new books for the 681-student school's remodeled library. She wrote on the AwesomeStPaul website that her goal is to "build connections with students and help them find the perfect books for them."
"I would love to add new, engaging books to our brand-new library space to engage students to get them excited about reading," she said.
Yeager said there are 48 proposals "in the queue and they will stay there until we decide not to fund them, or they no longer need the money." She said she hopes to solicit even more ideas in the weeks to come.
"This is for people who have great ideas," she said. "We are a city of great ideas. There are lots of ideas percolating out there."
Velasquez said she learned about the foundation's St. Paul chapter through Patricia Ohmans with Frogtown Green. The 12- by 100-foot garden will be planted along Mano a Mano's Pierce Butler Route headquarters.
Minnesota's chilly spring notwithstanding, she said she hopes the garden is blooming and attracting bees, butterflies and birds by mid- to late summer.
"We are anxious to go as soon as it feels like it's warm enough," she said. "When people feel ready to dig into the soil with that shovel."
For more information, or to make a grant request, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.