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Good deeds done

Giving to charity isn’t a question for computer programmer Randy Smith, SB’86, and his partner, Lori Kenschaft, a graduate student in American history at Boston University. Neither is how much to give—for two years now, they’ve allocated 10 percent of their income to good causes. The only questions are where and how to donate that money.

“The wonderful thing about setting an amount to give away is that the money is then thought of as spent; in some sense, it’s no longer your money,” Smith remarks. “It’s very freeing.”

Believing the most important stage of learning happens at an early age, they chose to give their 1998 donation to support primary education. As they discussed foundations to give to, Kenschaft’s mother suggested that they create their own program and directly fund the schools they were interested in.

So with a little money—$5,000 of their $50,000 household income—the couple set out to make big changes. Looking for the most creative and valuable ways of spending the money, they mailed a notice explaining their idea and application forms to all 73 of Boston’s public elementary schools.

Receiving 40 proposals, Smith and Kenschaft decided to fund 14 projects, giving different amounts based on the proposals. The couple gave $460 to a second-grade teacher, who matched their gift with her own money, buying a karaoke machine that displayed words on a screen to help teach English to her Spanish-speaking students. An art teacher proposed a project in which his fourth-grade students would read stories and draw their imagined versions of the scenes. The money helped buy art supplies and appropriate books.

Smith and Kenschaft describe one proposal as particularly disheartening: A fifth-grade teacher asked for a projection screen because her classroom was located in a basement with pipes running all around and no flat, clear area of wall space.

Following up on the projects, they discovered progress in at least one classroom: “The children, who didn’t speak a word of English, are now singing songs, word for word, in English,” Smith reports.
Smith said that they have gotten letters from other people—attuned to their efforts because of a Boston Globe story—who want to help fund the project next year.

“The best part is that we may have influenced other people to see that it really doesn’t take that much money to make a difference,” says Smith. “There is no shortage of good work that needs to be done. The world needs as many people as possible to help out.”—J.P.

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