By Louise Morgan
What an awesome idea! The Montreal Awesome Foundation is a group of 10 enthusiastic Montrealers who each donate $100 of their own cold, hard cash toward a grant for a local community project. The $1,000 grants are awarded bi-monthly for initiatives that improve the community environmentally, culturally or otherwise.
“To be engaged in philanthropy, you don’t need tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. A hundred dollars can make a big difference,” says Chad Lubelsky, BA 95, an alumnus of Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies.
Executive director at Santropol Roulant by day, he co-founded the Montreal Awesome Foundation last year with Patrick Tanguay. It all started when Lubelsky saw a picture on Facebook of a friend in Toronto giving away $1,000 in a paper bag. He loved the idea so much that he immediately contacted the founder of the Awesome Foundation to start a Montreal chapter.
“The idea that small-scale change can make a big difference is a really inspiring one. There are tons of people around us who have good ideas and just need a little bit of support,” says Lubelsky.
One of those good ideas is the Montreal Song Project, the brainchild of Concordia’s own Charlotte Cornfield, a singer-songwriter from Toronto and a 2010 graduate of the jazz studies program.
Cornfield wanted to celebrate her adopted city musically. “My idea was to create an album of songs inspired by the city of Montreal, written by some of the greatest songwriters in the community,” she says. The grant she received from the Montreal Awesome Foundation helped cover equipment rentals, promotional costs and a public launch at La Plante in August.
“This summer was a really intense time in Montreal, with the student action and impending elections. To engage in dialog and get artists thinking about these things when they approach their work, I think, is a really valuable thing,” says Cornfield, who plans to continue the song project.
The Montreal Awesome Foundation receives anywhere from 20 to 50 applications per grant cycle for projects of all kinds, such as greening a schoolyard, putting on a public lecture series, or curating an art exhibit.
“We select projects where the $1,000 makes a big difference. Especially since it comes from our own pockets, we want to see the direct impact,” says Lubelsky.
In June, the organization awarded a grant to a group of immigrant women caregivers who wanted to start a volleyball team. It offered them an important network to get physical exercise, have activities and support outside the homes where they work.
At the start, Lubelsky’s main consideration was the $100 and whether he could he afford it, but what he didn’t realise was how much time it requires. They switched from awarding grants monthly to bi-monthly to ensure they have the time to do it right.
“People put a lot of work into their applications, so we want to take the time and consider everything carefully,” says Lubelsky, noting all 10 trustees meet, discuss projects and later hold an event to award the grant.
A proud Montrealer himself, Lubelsky is smitten with the idea of working with “nine amazing Montrealers to discuss other amazing Montrealers’ great ideas. I come away feeling really proud of my community.”
“It’s very different than having a formal process with forms and cheques. The foundation provides cash with no strings attached,” says Lubelsky. “It’s trust-based, so we just look people in the eye and say ‘here’s your money.’”
Yet it’s not only about the money. “When you’re trying to empower change agents, it’s also about support. Just because we’re not in a position to fund a particular project doesn’t mean other people can’t, so we always invite a few of the applicants to our events so they can talk to others about their ideas.”
The Awesome Foundation Montreal counts four other trustees who are Concordia alumni: Thomas Barbieri, BA (communication studies) 05, Adrienne Hiles, BA (communication studies) 06, Anita Maiezza, BA (communication studies) 08, Anders Bell, BA (classics) 04.
The Awesome Foundation concept was born in Boston in 2009. Chapters have since popped up across the continent and are autonomously run.
“I would encourage anyone who has an idea for a project to apply,” says Cornfield, “because the Awesome Foundation is such a wonderful thing.”
• Montreal Awesome Foundation
• CTV News report on the Montreal Awesome Foundation
• Chad Lubelsky’s blog
• Charlotte Cornfield
• Concordia Department of Communication Studies
• Concordia Department of Music