Here’s what I learned as a member of the Dekko Foundation Grant Review Committee

Posted on August 19th, 2014

tommorain

My wife jokes that her favorite scripture is “God so loved the world that He didn’t send a committee.” That may be appropriate for some groups, but it’s way off base for my two-year experience on the Dekko grant review committee. When participants respect each other and are seriously committed to finding the best solutions, group work can be very productive and fun in the process. 1) Aristotle was right: “The group always knows more than any one person in it.” Before each session, I always received in the mail a thick notebook with the applications under consideration, each with staff evaluations and recommendations. While I read the reviews carefully beforehand, I was frequently surprised how others spotted angles on details that I had never considered. Sometimes I had overlooked benefits that the projects would achieve. Sometimes I missed red flags that leaped off the page once someone else pointed them out. By the end of the day, I always—always—came away with a better understanding of what makes a good proposal and (guilty as charged) a list of stolen good ideas I wanted to apply back home. 2) Who isn’t there? Who isn’t being reached by the game plan of a proposal? Big numbers of youth served can be impressive, but sometimes what is more important is who is being left out. Who needs this program most and how does the project propose to get them to participate? Sharon Smith invades my dreams. She challenges us: “We’re not giving Graceland University money to get your own kids to a concert. You’ll do that anyway. Whose kids won’t get to the concert without this grant and how do you propose to get them there?” Dekko talks about “high-barrier youth”, those without the economic, family or cultural supports to enable them to participate in the bigger world. Even when the programs are free, these are the kids who don’t show up because no one has ever encouraged them to go. How do you reach them? Dekko is ruthless in its concern for the high-barrier kids. Well done, Dekko. Keep up the good work. 3) There’s a great Latin quote that I used to know but I have, of course, forgotten when I could have used it to sound impressive. It translated, “What does it matter in the long run?” Dekko folks may not know the quote either but they know what it means. Kids can grow up to be successful whether or not they know how to shoot free throws. But what kids need is a sense that they are valued, that someone believes they are worth spending time with, that it’s OK to ask for help, and yes, it’s OK to fail at something new. You can teach those things through a free throw workshop if you commit to them in both planning and delivery. Working with future NBA hot shots is not the goal here, folks . Turning out successful kids is. Dekko gets that, and it comes through loud and clear in how they assess the potential of applications. I learned a lot from my colleagues in those sessions. In a divided world with so much shouting and name-calling and self-righteous posturing, it was a pleasure to gather around the table to engage in civil discussion that modeled respect and an appreciation for a diversity of perspective. That’s how I will remember my term on the Dekko grant review sessions. –Tom Morain Graceland University Lamoni, Iowa

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