Hamilton County Commissioner Jim Fields is helping Signal Mountain High School seniors help their school and community by donating a portion of his discretionary funds to be distributed to those who request help financing their senior projects.
Fields said the idea came about after he was contacted by a senior seeking funding for a project. As he is not allowed to donate discretionary funds to individuals, he contributed $10,000 to the Mountain Education Foundation for the purpose of distributing it to seniors for their projects.
"I suggested they put together a grant committee to decide which proposals they want to fund," he said. "I think it helps the student in going through the process of justifying the project."
SMHS principal Dr. Tom McCullough organized a committee to receive the students' grant requests and make judgment calls as to how the funds would be dispensed, said committee chairman Steve Redman.
"There are a lot of very worthwhile projects our seniors have proposed, and they don't need a lot of money, but do need a little bit of money to see them fulfilled," said McCullough.
Redman, who teaches most of the senior class as the school's senior philosophy instructor, said 25 students are currently set to receive funding for their projects this year.
"Every senior was given the opportunity to fill out a grant request in which they had to explain what their needs were with documentation showing that their requests were accurate and logical," he said.
The committee reviewed each plan, which they approved or rejected. In some cases they asked the student to modify the plan or provide them with more information before the final decision was made, said Redman.
"The projects that received money were ones that showed a true need for funds and were linked to a project that was deemed worthy and appropriate by the committee," he said.
Fields said he hoped students would learn valuable skills through the proposal process which could be used later on in situations such as presenting a business plan or attempting to acquire a loan from the bank.
"I think it was beneficial for the students to have to submit a formal proposal that made them assess and quantify their needs instead of simply asking for a general handout," said Redman.
He said he spoke to the students about "real world" applications for the skill, using grant requests submitted by local teachers as examples.
"It's life experience that will help them down the road," said McCullough of the grant proposal process.
Redman said the committee has not yet distributed all the funds supplied by Fields. He said he expects the committee will receive many more grant requests next year, as the majority of this class had already secured funding for their projects before they were made aware that the funds were available.
Fields said he feels funding the student projects is a worthwhile use of his discretionary funds and plans to continue the $10,000 contribution from year to year.