FREEPORT, Maine — Portland’s A Company of Girls teaches young girls and teens to feel empowered through theater and music, but it’s not too much of an overstatement to say the group might not have survived without the Quimby Family Foundation, said one of the company’s leaders Friday.
A Company of Girls was one of 68 nonprofit organizations working in Maine that was given some of the nearly $1.3 million in grant money awarded at the foundation’s eighth annual luncheon Friday.
Devin Dukes, managing director of A Company of Girls, said that after the group learned it was losing $45,000 in state money due to Department of Health and Human Services cuts, the $20,000 award from the Quimby Family Foundation was enough of an offset to help keep the company afloat.
“This is something that keeps us going,” Dukes said. “We are relieved, to say the least.”
The celebratory tone at the Freeport event, held at the Harraseeket Inn, represented a change for philanthropist Roxanne Quimby and her family compared to just three days earlier, when the Penobscot County commissioners became the latest government officials to line up against Quimby’s proposed Maine Woods National Park in the Katahdin region.
Dan O’Leary — CEO of both the Quimby Family Foundation and the affiliated Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the Quimby organization focused on establishing the 70,000-acre national park — acknowledged that Quimby most often appears in the news because of the proposed park, which some politicians and locals have opposed, saying it would infringe on the region’s traditional economic and recreational uses, including logging, snowmobiling, hunting and fishing.
Park proponents have argued it would generate revenue for the region through increased visitors, and could be paid for mostly through a large endowment Quimby has pledged to create.
In addition to the park, which she proposed to donate to the National Park Service, Quimby and her family annually give away millions of dollars to nonprofits across Maine. But whether those regular gestures of charity are enough to earn Quimby some goodwill among those in the area of her proposed park, O’Leary wasn’t venturing any guesses.
O’Leary said he preferred not to answer questions about the park. Rather, Friday’s event is to focus on the work being done by grant awardees, he said.
“This year, for the first time, we were able to visit all 84 grant finalists,” O’Leary said, noting that nearly 300 organizations applied during this eighth wave of annual foundation awards. “The board agonized over these decisions.
“It really makes you proud to be part of Maine [to see the work being done by all the grant applicants],” he continued. “The whole family — Roxanne included — is really proud this is part of their lives. These are real people doing real work because they want to make a difference.”
The former Portland Museum of Art official said the foundation’s grant awards and annual luncheon are unique in Maine because they offer personal networking opportunities between not only foundation officials and donors, but also other grant recipients. Most grant programs, he said, are administered exclusively from a distance through application mailings, email and maybe follow-up telephone calls.
The Quimby Family Foundation grant program is also different because it allows its money to be used to cover operational costs, said grant recipient Jamie Silvestri of the Bath-based mobile art therapy program ArtVan.
The ArtVan was awarded $10,000 from the foundation this year, Silvestri said, and the organization — which brings after-school art programs to kids in low-income housing developments in the southern midcoast, Lewiston-Auburn and Biddeford areas — will use the money to cover administrative costs during periods of time when the group isn’t conducting or getting paid for programs.
Those periods add up to about 10 weeks each year, she said, and typically are spent marketing the programs and planning. Silvestri said the grant money also will allow ArtVan to hire a fundraising and development specialist, Luanne Schoninger.
“There aren’t a lot of foundations that support operational costs,” Silvestri said. “Most foundations focus on projects.”
Patricia McBride of the Maine Irish Heritage Center, housed in the historic 1892 former St. Dominic’s Church in Portland, said her organization’s award of $20,000 will help pay for a heating system in the old building. The heat will allow the group to host programs throughout the calendar year and create new opportunities for outreach and fundraising.
“This is huge for us to be recognized by the Quimby Foundation,” McBride said.