2024 Schwab Alumni Grant recipients addressing community needs 

July 10, 2024Megan Schuknecht ’93, Bill Mabon ’95, and Donald Elmore ’98 are the 2024 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 College.

Schuknecht, Mabon, and Elmore each received grants for their respective projects. It’s the first time since 2019 that there have been three recipients in one year. 

Megan Schuknecht ’93
   Megan Schuknecht ’93

Schuknecht will use the $2,000 grant money to support five additional participants in The Or Foundation’s Mabilgu Program, which provides immediate relief and alternative economic opportunities for young women and girls in Ghana who had worked as head porters. 

“While some romanticize the act of head carrying, the truth is far from romantic,” Schuknecht says. “Many of the girls in the Mabilgu Program formerly carried secondhand clothing bales exported by countries throughout the Global North, including the U.S. They were carrying the 55-kilogram bales through the narrow market lanes and beyond, literally crushing their spines.”

Schuknecht has been working with The Or Foundation for almost three years, first as part of a partnering organization and now directly for them as a contractor on their ecological restoration projects. The foundation’s Mabilgu Program (Mabilgu means “sisterhood” in Dagbani) is a structured and paid apprentice placement program with local designers, artists, and business professionals in Accra, Ghana.

The 6- to 12-month program trains young women in marketable skills, provides a living wage income, and builds bridges and mentorship networks across communities frequently divided by different regional and socioeconomic backgrounds within Ghana, Schuknecht says.

“Overall, the goal of the Mabilgu program is to empower women, helping them become financially self-sufficient, gain control of their own bodies, and prevent them from ever having to return to head carrying,” she says. “Every girl has the right to be treated with dignity, respect, and care, and to have access to educational opportunities, regardless of where they live in the world or the conditions into which they were born.” 

Mabon received a $1,450 grant to purchase winter coats, hats, gloves, and warm socks for a nonprofit organization that his children have been volunteers for since they were in elementary school.

Coats of Friendship is an organization started and staffed by children – who are now teenagers –   to buy winter coats for homeless and impoverished men, women, and children in South Central Pennsylvania. Tristan Rankin, a classmate of Mabon’s kids, Harrison and Margaret Ann Mabon, began Coats of Friendship at age 6 as an effort to keep people warm during the winter. 

Thousands of coats on several tables in a gym or cafeteria ready for distribution.
Thousands of coats are distributed annually at the Coats of Friendship, an organization staffed by Pennsylvania adolescents.

For the past eight years, Harrison and Margaret Ann have helped collect coats and raise awareness about the effort. 

“This work has helped develop their interest in community involvement,” Mabon says. “We’ve volunteered with my children at the main annual distribution for years. Every year, there are disabled, homeless, and destitute people in need of coats. Two years ago, a man starting a construction laborer job the next day cried, because in addition to getting a coat he received the only size 13 steel toed boots that we had available. He needed those boots for his job, and to him it was a miracle.”

Coat collection is an ongoing, year-round activity and thousands of coats are distributed annually. While the majority of them are donated, the Schwab Alumni Grant funding will be used for purchasing coats in sizes where donations are insufficient.

Elmore’s project also involves a community initiative where he lives, an afterschool arts program for children residing in emergency shelter housing in Denham, Massachusetts. Like many communities, Dedham has experienced a recent influx in migrant families who are new to the U.S. The Massachusetts state shelter system has placed families in two locations in Dedham.

Donald Elmore ’98, left, and Bridget O'Leary,
   Donald Elmore ’98, left, and
   Bridget O'Leary

“While the town and school district have worked diligently to best accommodate these new students, the significant increase in student population and the needs for additional services have created unplanned budgetary pressures,” Elmore says. “These pressures have made it very difficult for the schools to increase and introduce new initiatives outside of the core curricular requirements.”

Elmore is a board member and the treasurer of the Dedham Arts Boosters, which provides support for many activities in the arts held through the public schools. The Arts Boosters have worked toward implementing a series of arts-related programming for children living in the shelter facilities. Initial sessions were well-received by families and volunteers.

Elmore received a $1,153 Schwab Alumni Grant to purchase additional supplies to support the activities.

“The ability to continue these activities will provide an important creative and social outlet for children living in the shelter facilities,” he says. “For children and families who ultimately move on from Dedham, we hope that this experience will provide them with a positive memory of our community and a love of creativity that they bring to their next home. For those who remain in Dedham, we hope that these programs can provide an on-ramp for interested students to become an integral part of our middle and high school arts programs as they move through the remainder of their education.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information

Learn more about the Lori Ann Schwab ’95 Alumni Grant and how to apply for the 2025 grant.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook and the Alumni & Friends Instagram accounts.