Featured Story, Features

Legacy Grants Provide Opportunities for Students to Serve Others

Bulky black cases bump against the floor of the Green Line train as students board. Moving through the crowd of passengers, some students drag their heavy cases while others haul smaller ones. They might get annoyed looks as they take up space, but that’s not important. The truly important thing is where they’re going—Franciscan Children’s Hospital. Each of these students is a musician, taking his or her instrument of choice across town to serve others. As part of the Music Guild Volunteers, these students visit teenage psychiatric patients and help them learn to play their favorite songs. The music helps these kids through difficult times and lets BC students use their talents to bring happiness to others.

Without the Boston College Legacy Grant, this service—and many others—would never have been possible.

“It was one of the first projects we funded,” said Colleen Claflin, who formerly directed the Legacy Grant program.

After applying for a grant in the 2013-14 school year, John Guzzi, BC ’15, and Tabitha Joseph, CSOM ’17, successfully launched the Music Guild Volunteers using the $2,500 they were given. In the years since, it has expanded as an organization on campus and continues to support service initiatives in the community.

The Music Guild Volunteers is only one of 40 projects that the Legacy Grant program has funded since its inception in 2013. As a partnership with the senior class gift, the Legacy Grant program offers students funds to pursue projects within wide-ranging fields. These projects include arts, the environment, technology, and more. The overarching theme that connects these projects is a commitment to service and Jesuit values.

One of those projects, pitched by Ryan Dontas, Ryan Lee, and Nate Schwan, all BC ’16, was TradeRoutes. The program was based on the popular educational computer simulation Oregon Trail, which allows players to experience the journey of settlers coming from the Eastern United States to the West. Expanding on that idea, TradeRoutes created virtual simulations for multiple historical journeys, such as the Silk Road and the Freedom Trail. These simulations were combined with comprehensive lesson plans, homework assignments, tablet components, and a mobile application that used Google Cardboard to create a virtual reality experience.

“When they actually came in to interview we got to test out the equipment, and it was pretty lifelike,” Claflin said. “It was hands down one of the most unbelievable interviews we ever had because … till that point, we hadn’t had a project come in that was so far along.”

Each year, when the senior class gift reaches a certain milestone, more funds are unlocked for Legacy Grants that assist projects such as this. University Trustee Drake Behrakis, BC ’86, challenges each graduating class to achieve a level of participation, and pledges Legacy Grant funds for when that goal is reached. This year, the class of 2017 has an 85 percent participation goal and has managed to pass three milestones and unlock $15,000 of the $25,000 total available grant funding. This process began with the class of 2013, which raised funds for the next year’s projects. Since that beginning, every class has achieved its participation goal and unlocked the full amount of funding.

During its first year, the Legacy Grant program had to overcome the difficulties of spreading the word and informing students of the opportunities available to them. But as students like Guzzi and Joseph, who received their Music Guild Volunteers funding during the program’s first year, were successful with their project, more people became knowledgeable about the opportunity.

“Our visibility has increased each year,” said Michelle Murphy, the director of Annual Giving and Volunteer Engagement.

As the program has grown, so has the money available to students. This year the program experienced a major change, as the grant available doubled from $2,500 to $5,000 dollars. Meghan Dunn, who currently directs the Legacy Grant program, mentioned how this increased funding will allow for more complex and multifaceted student projects.

Online grant applications are reviewed by a board of University students and administrators that searches for the strongest, most sustainable projects to fund. Students whose projects have been reviewed by the board undergo an interview process and must demonstrate the impact their programs will have on the community. After this process occurs each semester, the successful students receive their funding and go on to build and develop their projects.

“We’re looking for projects that are very well thought out, that have clear implementation plans and that also have a sustainable component to it,” Dunn said. “So what will happen once the funding runs out, how will these programs continue on and leave a legacy?”

Programs like the Music Guild Volunteers continue to make an impact and provide an example of the success that Legacy Grants can bring. Now, with the funding available doubled, projects of even greater scope are possible this year. As “men and women for others,” BC students are called to serve their community, and as Amy Dattilo, the associate director of Strategic Marketing and Writing, said, Legacy Grants are “a great way to have students actually go out there and live that.”

Featured Image by Kyle Bowman / Heights Staff

February 26, 2017