Two 1993 Grinnell grads awarded Schwab Alumni Grants

July 7, 2023John Brentnall ’93 and Tara M. Neavins ’93 are the 2023 recipients of the Lori Ann Schwab ’95 Alumni Grants. 

Schwab was committed to making the world a better place by helping others. Her life was cut short by a sudden illness while she was studying in London in 1994.

The grant provides stipends to support specific community service projects that recipients are significantly involved with. It is open to alumni from the classes of 1992 through 1998, the years that overlapped with Schwab’s time at Grinnell

John Brentnall ’93 and Tara M. Neavins ’93
   John Brentnall ’93 and
  Tara M. Neavins ’93

Brentnall and Neavins each received $2,000 grants for their respective projects.

Brentnall’s project is to purchase e-books and audiobooks for Quatrefoil Library so that LGBTQ+ youth and their parents have access to these essential resources regardless of geographic location.

Quatrefoil Library is a community center in Minneapolis that cultivates the free exchange of ideas and makes accessible LGBTQ+ materials for education and inspiration. The library has a collection of over 20,000 materials. It is 100 percent volunteer-run. Library membership is free and open to all.

Brentnall’s relationship with Quaterfoil stretches back to the late 1990s when he became a member and patron. He joined the Board of Directors in 2021 and recently stepped into the role of treasurer.

“This project is important to me because I was a gay teenager without access to supportive resources in the school or public libraries in my hometown of Creston in southwest Iowa,” Brentnall says. “The only information found about LGBTQ people in the library catalogs during the 1980s was located under the topic ‘homosexuality’. Books opened the world to me as a little boy, and I remember being disappointed at being unable to find a range of materials to read and digest about my sexual orientation.”

In Minnesota and other states groups have put pressure on school boards, libraries, and state politicians to ban books they deem pro-gay and immoral. Iowa’s governor signed a bill in May banning books with certain sexual content from public school libraries (The same bill bans Iowa teachers from raising gender identity and sexual orientation issues with students through grade six.)

“Quatrefoil is committed to making challenged books freely available,” Brentnall says. “We continually add to our young adult collection so that young people may find themselves reflected and discover information to help them navigate an often-troubling world.”

Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis
Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis makes accessible LGBTQ+ materials for education and inspiration. The Schwab grant will be used to purchase e-books and audiobooks.

Quaterfoil’s digital collection includes the most challenged books with LGBTQ+ content, titles such as Gender Queer, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and This Book is Gay. Books by and about queer people of color make up more than 25 percent of Quatrefoil’s digital collection. The Schwab grant will be used to purchase additional digital copies of the most in-demand books along with adding titles not currently in the collection, Brentnall says.

Neavins’ project also involves nonprofit organizations and has an educational component. A Girl Scouts Heart of Central California troop, for which she is a junior level leader, will make 93 handmade, colorful blankets for survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and sex trafficking.

Neavins has been a Sexual Assault Response Team advocate with When Everyone Acts Violence Ends (WEAVE) since 2011. Neavins takes on-call shifts and accompanies survivors during evidentiary exams. She makes sure they feel heard and believed and provides as many of the comforts of home as possible during the exams, including new clothes, snacks, hot chocolate, a teddy bear, and soon colorful blankets.

“When someone experiences sexual trauma, they have lost so much,” Neavins says. “A simple act of being able to offer them a comfortable, warm, and colorful blanket and importantly, the choice of which blanket they might like, allows them to embark on a path of healing. I have seen time and time again how such simple acts of caring really make a difference.”

With the grant money, Neavins will purchase blanket fabric kits. About 30 girls from Girl Scout Troop #108 are making blankets from the kits. Neavins’ two daughters – Sofia, age 12, and Angelica 10 – are entering their sixth year with Girl Scouts.  

“By bridging my love of Girl Scouts and WEAVE, it is my hope that I will continue to raise daughters who are empathetic and reach out in service to others,” Neavins says. “At a developmentally appropriate level, I want to expose our Troop #108 girls to knowing that sexual and intimate partner violence happen and that there are so many ways we can work to end such violence.”

Neavins says her volunteerism and work have centered around reducing violence in the world. Her passion was fueled while at Grinnell College when she learned of the Politically Active Feminist Alliance during New Student Orientation and later, through her work with Grinnell’s Change and Justice group. Learning about the murder of classmate Tammy Zywicki ’93 brought these issues home even more. This mission against violence led her to become a clinical psychologist at the Sacramento VA Medical Center where she specializes in treating Veterans with histories of trauma, violence, and addictions.

“I have always wanted to figure out different ways to get at the core issues that contribute to violence,” she says. “I have met so many survivors of sexual violence, and I cannot believe that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, sexual violence is rampant. I will be in this fight as long as it takes, and I dream that my daughters will follow suit. As every presenter said during Women Take Back the Night during my fourth year at Grinnell: ‘those who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.’”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information

Learn more about the Lori Ann Schwab ’95 Alumni Grant and how to apply for the 2024 grant.

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