“Let’s Catalyze!” Catalyst Fund Members Discuss the Unique Benefits of Giving Back to their Communities the Catalyst Way
Since 2003, the Catalyst Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain has afforded civic-minded citizens of modest means from Berlin, New Britain, Plainville and Southington the opportunity to play “philanthropist,” impacting their communities in myriad positive ways while only requiring limited commitments of time and money. The Foundation recently visited with several members of the Fund at the Pathways/Senderos Teen Center in New Britain, which in 2014 received a $10,000 Catalyst Grant to purchase computers for after-school use by New Britain teens. We asked the members why they joined Catalyst and about the unique rewards of giving back the Catalyst Fund Way. We would like to thank Catalyst Fund members Sharon Baretta of New Britain, Maureen Brummett of Southington, Fran and Patrick Gallagher of Plainville and Paul Salina of Berlin for their time and commitment to their communities.
People give back to their communities in many ways, chief among them donating to causes they care about. But the Catalyst Fund is a little different. What makes Catalyst so unique?
Paul: What is so great about the Catalyst Fund is that members have a say in exactly how funds are going to be used, and we do that in two ways. One is to determine, every year, the category of support – what general area of community need we want to address. After bringing in speakers and learning about the chosen topic, we then actually get to select the charity that will benefit from our funding.
Sharon: What I like about Catalyst is that you know that wherever the money goes, it is going to impact that program in a very positive way. And I like that Catalyst serves not only New Britain, but the surrounding towns as well, all the towns the Community Foundation serves.
Maureen: I like how personalized Catalyst is. I like the idea that we get together, and people come out and make presentations about what they will do with the funds. With most grants, you usually read a submission or grant application. With Catalyst, you actually meet the folks doing the work, and you get a real sense of what they and their programs are all about. You feel that you are in on the ground floor of making an impact.
So, the dynamics of the Catalyst Fund are a bit different than traditional community service or grantmaking. What is it like to be part of a Catalyst Fund meeting?
Patrick: It’s very democratic and everyone has a say, which is great. Every idea from every person is respected and taken into consideration, and even if the chosen area of support isn’t what you were really advocating for, the decision is always embraced and supported by everybody.
Fran: Nothing is off the table at a Catalyst Fund meeting, all things are considered. And that doesn’t happen everywhere.
Sharon: When you participate in Catalyst and hear a presentation, you get to see someone’s passion and enthusiasm for the work they do that is making their community better. And that makes a big difference for me. I understand numbers, facts and figures, but what I really want to see and hear is passion. That always turns the table for me.
Paul: That was the case with the Pathways/Senderos grant a couple years ago. Nick (Jakubowski, Co-Executive Director) was so passionate, his presentation was one of the most dynamic and most heartfelt we ever experienced. And we got to meet Nick, someone who came through the school system in New Britain and who is now passionately giving back to the community. That’s something you can’t learn about by reading a grant application.
Catalyst has supported many different causes over the years, from after-school programs for teens to literacy to food insecurity to veterans. Do you have a particular favorite?
Maureen: Well I’m fairly new to Catalyst, but from what I’ve seen all of the causes have been addressing challenges I can relate to. Last year the topic was youth and family homelessness, and unfortunately I see that right here in our school district (as superintendent of Plainville schools). Every year we probably have seven or eight children who fall into that category. And this year, with the topic of providing support for non-college bound kids so they can succeed, that hits home too.
Sharon: My favorite topic so far was from a couple years ago, when we chose to help other non-profits with their capacity building. With that one grant, we were able to provide training to maybe a dozen non-profit organizations so that they could run their organizations more efficiently and be more successful in achieving their missions. And they all learned to be friends, not competitors, and they still help each other out to this day.
Paul: I don’t know if I have a favorite, they are all so good, but I think, for me, the ones that resonate the most are when you can help people help themselves. Like the old saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime,” I think that’s the thing with Catalyst. Here at Pathways/Senderos, by providing these students with these computers for after-school access, we are giving them the tools to learn, to help them lift themselves to the next level. There’s a ripple effect that can’t be measured.
How do you know that the investment the Catalyst Fund makes in various programs is working?
Paul: A key difference with Catalyst is that every year, the programs we award grants to come back to talk to us about how the funds were used and how successful they’ve been. They will bring photos, sometimes they will bring program participants who tell personal stories about how they have been helped. You get to see in real terms how your investment has paid off.
Patrick: It helps us so much with the groups coming back to make a report. For the most part they have taken advantage of the award and bring their stories back. That really completes the loop for us, and gives us evidence of how the Catalyst Fund is changing lives.
Why should people consider joining the Catalyst Fund?
Fran: This world needs to be a more personal place, and the Catalyst Fund offers an opportunity make your world a little more personal. You get to make decisions on how to make somebody’s life a little easier, without having to give up a whole lot of time or money to do it. You can be as involved as you wish, with no judgements made. It changes everyone who takes part.
Sharon: I truly love Catalyst because we are all directly involved in improving our communities together. We come in as strangers, we learn something, we make a difference, and we walk out as friends. For a relatively small amount of money, and a relatively small amount of time, you can be the catalyst for a large amount of change over a long period of time. Catalyst makes it easy to be a philanthropist.
Paul: So often these days with some causes you see that such a small percentage of the money you donate is actually going to doing the good that you are trying to achieve. I think with Catalyst, you really see that your dollars are making a difference. It’s local and it helps causes in your community. And you get to see the results of your investment.
Maureen: The Catalyst Fund is not only a great opportunity to do something good, but it’s also a great way to network and make new friends while helping out your community. It is one of those rare opportunities where you can really guide something important from start to finish – and then see the fruits of your labor down the road. I highly recommend it.