South Bend Awesome Fund (Personal History)
The South Bend Awesome Fund is a thousand dollar check written by The Awesome Foundation for cool ideas people in South Bend come up with. The best thing about it is you don’t have to be a nonprofit 501c3 or anything else, you just need to have an awesome idea and be prepared to present it in front of their board.
Our nonprofit, Michiana Chess, applied for it recently—we applied last year and lost—and this year they invited us to the presentation, as finalists. We went to the Chicory Café to give a five minute presentation on the awesome stuff we’re doing and why we could put their thousand bucks to better use than the others.
I mentioned to my friend during the presentations that I felt like every single one of them deserved the check, which made it hard, even from my biased perspective, to justify why we should get it. We definitely needed the money…but so did everyone else. I have a feeling the board felt more or less the same way, they probably had a handful of other programs they wanted to give money to because the whole night was full of really interesting presentations from the Unity Gardens, from guys trying to generate an art walk in a newly remodeled part of Western Ave, and money for a standup keyboard for senior citizens. All good stuff. All very deserving.
My friend Christian went up and gave an impassioned stream-of-consciousness speech on the values of chess, how he’d been playing it his whole life, he invoked his Bangladesh trip, and at one point I thought he was going to tear his shirt off, pound his chest, and scream that he bled passion for the game (but he didn’t).
After the presentations the board disappeared into a quiet corner of the café to deliberate for ten minutes or so and then came back to announce that Michiana Chess was one of the winners.
Which was awesome.
We made a thousand bucks simply by sharing our vision for chess in South Bend and giving a short presentation about it.
Overall it was a great experience. It was cool to meet people like Mitch from the Unity Gardens, as well as a representative from Make South Bend. As we were talking to Mitch about setting up a chess camp at the Unity Gardens this summer one of the Awesome Foundation Board members said, “see, this is what it’s all about.”
I think he was right. While getting a thousand dollars for your project is a great way to improve what you’re doing to build our community, the real value is in connecting with other people as enthusiastic as you are about making South Bend as great as it can be. Everyone I met that night was passionate about the area, about helping the kids in the local schools to succeed, in helping makers get access to the tools they need to build the things they envision, and helping senior citizens learn music in their retirement years.
It was a great experience going there and I left feeling energized about the community and amazed at how many great and talented people were passionate about doing what they can to build things. These are volunteers. All people who are contributing their time and energy for free to create things that will help others. And the Board is so passionate about helping the community they funnel their own money into various programs they think will help.
If you haven’t heard of the Awesome Foundation you should check it out. If there isn’t one in your area, you can start one by finding nine other people willing to contribute a hundred dollars a month. And if you live in the South Bend area, consider sending in a proposal to the South Bend Awesome Fund. We lost the first time we submitted but won our second time, so there’s no harm in trying and failing.