WATERVILLE — Colby College announced Wednesday it has received a major campaign commitment to support, in perpetuity, a position that heads up the college’s civic engagement and community partnership program.

The gift from Colby Trustee Seth Lawry and his wife, Cynthia, will create the Lawry Family Director of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships, according to a Colby press release.

The Lawry Family Foundation gift will support one of Colby’s most important initiatives — increasing civic engagement activities to positively and collectively impact the Colby and central Maine communities, it says. The endowment enables Colby to continue to elevate its civic engagement work rooted in the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons that includes the Chace Community Forum downtown, and is part of the college’s effort to create meaningful connections between the Mayflower Hill campus and the community.

“The Lawrys’ gift is so important because it permanently ensures Colby’s ability to build and support a vibrant civic engagement program,” Colby President David A. Greene said in the release. “We are truly grateful to Seth and Cindy for their generosity and vision and are inspired by their work to carry on their family’s legacy of civic engagement in Maine. While Seth grew up in Waterville, neither Seth nor Cindy attended Colby, and so their special commitment to the College and our community is exceptional.”

Contacted Wednesday, George Sopko, Colby’s director of media relations, said he could not divulge the amount of the “major gift.”

Colby has been working to build stronger connections with area nonprofit organizations, as well as local governments and schools. As part of that effort, Colby students are involved in a wide range of activities and, in 2018-19, contributed 27,000 hours of civic work in Waterville, according to Colby officials.

The Lawrys, who live outside of Boston but have a home in central Maine, said in a joint statement that they are “deeply thankful for Greene’s relentless energy and consistent follow-through in committing significant human and capital resources to the area.”

“We are excited that this gift can help Colby continue developing meaningful partnerships in the region,” it says. “The college’s relationship with central Maine is so important for both communities. We hope this endowment enhances opportunities for students and community members to come together in ways that enrich the lives of both.”

The couple’s family has a legacy of civic engagement, associated not only with Colby, but also with Maine in general, according to the release.

“Seth’s late father, William ‘Bill’ Lawry, grew up in Fairfield, ran a successful business, and served three terms in the Maine State Legislature. Bill and his wife, Muriel, were deeply involved in many local organizations and activities over their 60 years together in the area. Additionally, Seth’s family has a long history in Maine and with Colby. His family has lived in Central Maine for generations, dating back to the end of the American Revolution. A number of ancestors, including William and Francis Heath (Classes of 1855 and 1857), graduated from Waterville College, Colby’s founding name. In 1958 Seth’s great-uncle Francis Heath, Colby Class of 1917, established the M.S. Heath Scholarship Fund.”

Elizabeth Jabar Photo by Sean Alonzo Harris

Elizabeth Jabar currently serves as Colby’s director of civic engagement and community partnerships. She will become the inaugural Lawry Family Director of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships.

“This wonderful gift is helping to continue the exciting momentum taking place at the college in terms of enhancing and building community partnerships, and I’m truly honored and grateful to be the first endowed director of this important office,” Jabar said in the release.

The endowment for the position also builds on recent support for Colby’s civic engagement model. In November 2019, Colby announced the creation of the O’Hanian-Szostak Fellows for Civic Leadership which was possible through the generosity of Trustee Emerita Anne O’Hanian-Szostak and Michael J. Szostak. A number of other developments related to Colby’s civic engagement initiative are expected in the near future.

Colby officials say the college’s model is unique for making civic engagement a central part of the liberal arts education, as well as the student experience, and creating specific civic engagement goals and requirements for students living in the heart of a community.

“It’s a very different approach that other institutions are now starting to look at as they consider their own programs,” Jabar said.

Jabar has strong family ties to Waterville, having lived here as a child, and many of her family members have gone on to become prominent civic leaders at the local and state level.


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