“Something that makes people stop in their tracks… and act of surprise, kind of blows your mind—stunning people into creativity and adding a layer of intrigue,” said Roanne Lee, the director and Dean of Awesome for the Awesome Foundation’s newly formed Cincinnati Chapter.
If you are deemed Awesome, you could win a $1,000 grant. To date, the Awesome Foundation has funded 542 projects in 12 countries at a price tag of $542,000.
Here’s how it works. Every month, each of its 73 chapters chooses a winner that can “forward the interest of Awesomeness in the universe.” That’s it… pretty awesome, right?
Created in 2009, in Boston, the Awesome Foundation is popping up in cities all over the world and most recently in the Greater Cincinnati area, including Northern Kentucky.
Founded locally by Lee, 23, the Cincinnati Chapter was launched in June as a way, according to Lee, to blur ethnic lines and bring Awesome to street level.
“It’s a form of philanthropy to supersede racial tension,” said Lee.
Moving to the Queen City a year ago, the young professional who works within the community, envisioned a more widespread approach to get locals involved with each other, in an Awesome way.
There has always been a lot of money for grants, she said, to fund large projects and start-ups, but there wasn’t funding for smaller, simpler, yet awesome ideas.
“You can value, with very little money, small acts of kindness and creativity,” said Lee.
The concept, she said, is to stop people in their tracks and get them talking about that “weird” or “awesome” thing they just saw, inviting Tweets and Facebook posts, furthering the effort of creating a community.
The only catch is that the Awesome project can only last up to one month and must cost just $1,000. With 50-plus applications, ideas started pouring in, said Lee.
“Some of them were completely inappropriate; some were interesting, good ideas.”
Several quirky projects flooded the newest Awesome chapter, including a Queen City Pop-Up Photo Booth—offering “free memories” with a photographer, props and backgrounds from around the Tri-State; a Braille Book Box—setting up nooks throughout the city for those with vision impairment to read without having to truck it all the way to their nearest library; and Gem of the Highlands in which the applicants would bedazzle a local monument in Norwood, the “Gem of Highlands” for an upcoming parade.
The winner of the first Cincinnati Chapter grant of Awesomeness was R.A.D.: Random Acts of Deliciousness by Colleen O’Connell, who said she plans to “bake and bask in the happiness and full bellies that she is spreading throughout the city.”
O’Connell’s recipe for Awesome started with a sweet idea, involving sharing food, which she said is symbolic and powerful.
When applying for the obscure Awesome grant, O’Connell took a stroll down memory lane which took her back to Sunday dinners—a time when her 20-plus-member family would gather around the table and unite with food and conversation. It was from those weekly meals that O’Connell said she learned that shared food is “more than crumb-deep.”
Now, she passes on that knowledge with cupcakes.
O’Connell said that she started taking baked goods to events and concerts, often dubbing it as R.A.D. It was her way of bringing “spontaneous gifts of sweetness to others,” she said. “I think that small acts of literal sweetness can have great love and power.”
“The heartwarming effect of receiving a gift from a stranger, coupled with the timeless act of sharing sustenance, transcends cultures, social class and personal boundaries,” said O’Connell.
Local trustees of The Awesome Foundation make awesome ideas like R.A.D. possible. The Cincinnati Chapter has 10 board members who give to the funding of unique projects.
Naashom Marx, business development manager for the City of Covington, Ky., described herself as a “community, volunteer geek.” So it was a given that she would jump on board with the foundation.
“I love getting people to work together. So when I learned about this opportunity I saw a way to help amazing people with great ideas make an impact for the community with very little funding.”
Tony Alexander, another Cincinnati chapter trustee, said the only mission is fun and spreading joy.
“I give to charity in other ways. This is something special.”
“[It’s] a great attempt to do some really cool stuff in the City of Cincinnati—something that makes a bunch of people happy, if even for a short while. I'm leveraging a small amount of money to help improve, even if just slightly, the lives of hundreds or thousands of people over a given time period,” said Alexander.
O’Connell’s Awesome blowout event to debut R.A.D. will commence on Sunday, June 30, at mystery pop-up locations throughout the city with the assistance of her cupcake-pushing friends.
“I think small joys and gifts are the one way to reveal bigger connections and foster community,” said O’Connell.