A group of University of Maine at Farmington students is experimenting with a new way to raise money for philanthropic projects by holding the town’s first micro-granting dinner — a meal where everyone chips in $5, groups pitch ideas for community projects to the rest of attendees, everyone votes on their favorite and the winner gets the pool of money for his or her project.

The project is based on Detroit SOUP, a micro-financing project started five years ago in the Motor City to support community projects. The 95 dinners held so far have helped raise money for projects benefiting individual neighborhoods or the entire city. The fundraising model has been adopted as a regular event in cities across the U.S.

While the students are planning a single event in Farmington, one goal of the project would be to get a few Farmington residents to hold regular micro-financing dinners as a way to promote the community.

“I really think this is something that’s sustainable,” said Isabel Smith, one of the UMF students involved in the project.

The project is the fruit of a new UMF initiative called CoLabs, in which different academic disciplines come together to give students applicable experiences.

The students behind Farmington SOUP are part of the pilot Power Up CoLab, which includes students and faculty from three academic departments who look at ways to address societal problems.

“I’ve heard a lot from students that there are things they want to change about the world, but they don’t know where to even start,” said Gaelyn Aguilar, assistant professor of anthropology, who teaches one of the CoLab classes. “The CoLab is about giving students practice in starting from the beginning on trying to create change.”

The three courses in the CoLab are on anthropology, art and economics, taught respectively by Gaelyn Aguilar and professors Gustavo Aguilar and John Messier. Students who are taking one to all three of these courses then apply what they learn toward the SOUP dinner.

“The classes are all, in some way, looking at capitalism and thinking about whether there are alternative kinds of economies we could foster on a smaller scale at the community level,” Gaelyn Aguilar said. “The project is focusing more on a project-generated inquiry and action.”

For Farmington SOUP, the students met with different community groups and sent out a call for ideas to pitch at the dinner, Senior Zach Vincent said. Ideas for the dinner had to be submitted by Monday, and a spectrum of ideas have come in, including building a tree house and conducting a community story-telling project.

“I think this is breaking down that town-gown barrier,” student Jeremy Vroom said. “We’re not doing this as the university. We’re doing this as people who are living in this community and are a part of it at this point in our lives.”

“We’re all learning how to put ourselves into the community and be an active part of it,” added UMF student Brandon Monroe.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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