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One thing that sets Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs students and alumni apart from the crowd is the amazing amount that they care about the world around them.
The Great Society Fund (GSF) is one way in which the school makes the world a better place. Created by the graduating class of 2005, the GSF provides resources and support for innovative social entrepreneurship projects started by LBJ students and alumni.
Led by Joe Laufer, Kevin Williams, Jay Crossley, and Kristen Reynolds, the graduating students raised more than $11,000 within one week during the spring of 2005, surpassing their initial goal of $10,000. They gave the money to the school as a gift in the form of the fund.
"I think it is tremendous that the idea was generated by a student, and supported enthusiastically by the class of 2005," said Andrea Kane, who serves as an alumni representative on the GSF board "To my knowledge, it is the first of its kind. It is also a wonderful way to recognize and support the fact that many public policy students and alums pursue careers in the non-profit and social arena."
The class of 2007 agrees that the Great Society Fund is an organization worth supporting. The to-be graduates recently announced that they would donate to the GSF as their class gift.
GSF is now in its second year of grant giving. The first GSF grant was given to Makarios, a 501(c)(3) organization started by 2004 LBJ graduate Sharla Megilligan, which promotes education development in the Dominican Republic.
The grant went to purchase land and to set up practical agricultural training programs for workers as well as provide low-cost food for community workers' families. Once workers complete the year-long training, they become responsible for their own piece of farmland.
Megilligan said she was amazed by the gratitude of the training program's first participant.
"He couldn't believe that we were offering him a chance to . . . have a job that would allow him to support his family," she said. "He will be able to send his kids to school, something he wouldn't be able to do if they stayed in the village. This job will literally change the lives of the four members of this family."
LBJ student Constance Dykhuizen decided to get involved with the GSF because of her work with Makarios in the summer of 2006.
"I knew I wanted to be a part of fundraising for the GSF grant because I have seen the children whose lives are impacted by the generosity and ingenuity of the LBJ School," she said.
Dykhuizen, the GSF board vice-chair and fundraising committee head, worked with fellow students, board chair Kate Holody and treasurer Morris Peters to organize a fundraiser that took place on March 1. Dominican Joe, a coffee shop at 515 South Congress that was founded by Megilligan and primarily uses coffee grown by Makarios farmers, hosted the event.
The fundraiser will help the GSF to continue giving grants. But Holody said it has other purposes too.
"It was a chance to celebrate how $10,000 can change the world. We're really excited about spreading the word about the Great Society Fund and what it can help accomplish. I was blown away by the turnout from the students, faculty, and alumni . . . It makes me confident that we'll be successful in promoting this organization and raising funds in the future," she said.
"Now I want to hear from any student or alum who has a seed of an idea. Our fund can help bring your idea to fruition."
Applications for GSF grants are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, April 13. They can be submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org or delivered to the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service.
The GSF also encourages people aren't applying for grants to be involved. Students can serve on the board or help out in other ways. Donors to the GSF become "social shareholders" who can help govern and manage the fund as well as select projects to receive grants.
"We hope to show that individuals can make a difference. And we seek to give LBJ students and alums the means to make a sustainable difference. We are an organization started by LBJ students and led by LBJ students," said Holody. "We envision a better world, one small step at a time."
For more information about the GSF, visit www.greatsocietyfund.org. Contributions may be made by check, credit card or via secure online donation forms on the fund's website. Checks should be made payable to the Great Society Fund, c/o Austin Community Fund, P.O. Box 5159, Austin, TX 78763.
Applications for the next funding cycle are due Friday, April 13, 2007.