The Overcast’s annual Albedo Grant gives a local, community-bettering endeavour a pot of cash to help them do their thing. The emphasis is on start-ups or an organization facing a specific financial barrier to growth. This year’s pot is $12,500, courtesy of sponsors/jurors Dean MacDonald, John O’Dea, and Phil Keeping’s family. We will reveal this year’s top 5 contenders, one a day all week long, before announcing the winner as May’s cover story. 

Who is Elling Lien and What is His Plan?

You already know Elling Lien – he was the founding editor of The Scope for a whopping 7.5 years (July 2006 – Janaury 2014), and he’s the guy who brought the RPM Challenge and Open Bookshelves to NL. These days, he’s the Executive Director of Unpossible NL, an organization that is quite simply making St. John’s a better place through a variety of culture-stimulating programs and events. Click here to read up on Unpossible.

One Unpossible NL project is the basis of today’s Albedo Grant top 5 post. “Unpossible Circles” will be a series of free enrichment programs where kids of different ages come together to work on challenging creative projects, with the support and encouragement of adult volunteers.

Their goal is to launch two circles this year: Writing Circles and Math Circles. “These Circles will be places for kids to try things out. To collaborate and ask questions, to have the freedom, encouragement, and confidence to explore and have fun being creative.”

The Circles won’t be focused on grades or on levels. “Like the RPM Challenge, we expect interesting work to come out of these open-ended and supportive projects, but when and if that success happens, it will be a happy byproduct, and for once, not the focus.”

How Will Unpossible Circles Work?

The idea was inspired by two organizations that are making these things happen in other places: 826 National and Math Circles of Chicago.

826 National, founded by writer Dave Eggers, is a nonprofit organization that supports writing and tutoring centers across the US. 826 encourages kids’ faith in their own creativity by having members of the community — not the students’ teachers or parents — work with kids, and by printing real paperback books of student writing.

Elling has attended a seminar at their national headquarters in San Francisco “to learn how and why they do what they do.” Unpossible’s writing circles would enjoy the guidance of local literary hero, and 3-time Giller nominee, Lisa Moore, who will help craft the program and train its team.

Math Circles of Chicago is a free, city-wide program where elementary and high school kids get together to explore mathematical ideas they don’t encounter in school. The project is founded on the idea that “math is a creative, collaborative, and social activity, and that mathematical exploration is best led by students who are encouraged to work together and ask questions, not by teachers giving a lecture.”

Doug O’Roark, ED of Math Circles of Chicago, has agreed to come to St. John’s to help get the program running and train the team. Common Ground would provide meeting space for Unpossible Circles.

How Would Unpossible Circles Use the $12,500?

The money would allow Unpossible to bring Doug O’Roark to St. John’s to set up the math circles program and train its team, and to pay Lisa Moore to do the same for the writing circles.

It would also fund a variety of practical and necessary tasks like advertising to alert parents to these programs, and the hiring of a designer for lesson plans, info packets, posters, etc. The money would also cover the printing of these materials, and provide a means to purchase supplies for the kids.