Atlanta has joined a growing international grassroots foundation that is helping people make their creative dreams come true.
Dionne Mahaffey, an entrepreneur who is involved with several local charities and community organizations, has launched an Atlanta chapter of The Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences to award $1,000 grants to those who have innovative ideas for their communities. Mahaffey is the first African American to head a chapter of the Awesome Foundation, which has 89 chapters around the world. The organization was founded by a group of MIT and Harvard students who wanted to make an impact in Boston. Their first project was a campus hammock that could hold about 20 people.
“It was a great idea that made a difference and it sparked a grassroots foundation that grew around the world,” said Mahaffey, whose Atlanta chapter is No. 88.
Collectively, the chapters have awarded $893,000 to 893 projects. Aside from helping nonprofits and ordinary people with great ideas, what also makes the foundation awesome is that each chapter is comprised of 10 to 15 board members who give their own money. Each trustee antes up $100 a month and each month, the group selects an idea to receive $1,000.
“We’re all altruistic, ” said Mahaffey, who is a trustee of her 10 member board, which includes a racially diverse group of people. “Ultimately, we want to be a springboard for people and organizations who just need a little push to get started: $1,000 feels like the perfect amount of money to try out an idea and get some attention for it.”
The group already has 30 applications and expects more as word spreads. The grants can go to groups, individuals and small, non-profit organizations. Awesome Foundation Chapters do not consider nonprofit status exclusively as the starting point for assessing a project's “awesome quotient.”
"Organized channels sometimes neglect the folks with the greatest need,” said Mahaffey. “Red tape and bureaucracy often prevent small artistic, creative, innovative, educational, environmental and other notable projects to go without sponsorship because they are not part of an organized charity or large non-profit organization."
Another part of Awesome Atlanta’s mission will be to help connect the grant winners with the resources that can help them grow their projects.
“We hope to see a lot of collaboration among various groups to get more money into the hands of the people who are doing great things in the city,” Mahaffey said.
Yasmin Smith, an IT project manager and one of the first Awesome Atlanta trustees said she decided to join because of "the fulfillment that comes from being a volunteer agent of positive change in the Atlanta community.
“It's like getting together with a group of friends each month and agreeing to help launch a great idea or complete an impressive and impactful community initiative,“ she said.
Applications for the Atlanta chapter’s inaugural grant are being accepted until March 20 on the group’s web site. The winner will be announced April 15.