Monday, October 29, 2012

Alfred I. perhaps the greatest du Pont humanitarian

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden has thrown down his gauntlet in the millions at stake between Delaware and Florida over the Nemours Foundation.
Alfred I could arguably be considered the most humanitarian of all the celebrated du Pont family members. The family and company changed our tiny state into a global commodity and international tourist destination..
Alfred ranks with founder, E I, who forever ingrained not only chemical knowledge but also social consciousness in the fibre of the company; P S invested $6 million of his own money to completely upend the racist based “Separate But Equal” education system of the '20's. Coleman du Pont, who with his own money constructed Rt 13, the first paved road coursing an entire state.
These three cousins bought the company from their uncles in 1902. The elders were about to sell to a competitor. Alfred was the only of the three who worked at Eleutherian Mills. He came up with the grand idea to save the company and keep it here.
Without A.I's daring plan for purchase, today there would be no Nemours Foundation, no Longwood Gardens, no Winterthur, no X Station, no Wilmington once pegged as “The Chemical Capital of the World”, no Nemours Mansion, no Mt. Cuba, no Hagley, no Howard High, no Tower Hill School...the list goes on.
Think Frank Capra's “It's A Wonderful Life”.with an adverse outcome.

In 1927 A.I.'s net worth in DuPont stock was valued at $70 million. That did not include the value of the undeveloped northern Florida land he would acquire totaling 320,000 acres costing $1.6 million (a princely $5.00 an acre) and the seven banks he established there during that time.
Alfred, like E.I, had social consciousness. His enlightened values centered on on the elderly retirees who had no lifeline to exist beyond others. He was a social legislator before his time.
In 1929, 40% of Delawareans over 65 were dependent upon others. That year A.I had introduced before the state legislature a bill to provide pensions. This was the very first legislation in the country that provided for blanket pensions to those of the certain age. He declared in the prologue of the bill, “ simple human justice decrees that society preserve independence and self respect of the elderly.”
He didn't have to do this. He could have sat back with his millions. But he - as the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the founder - practiced words spoken from 1802: 'For every privilege, there is inseparably bound a duty'
The bill did not pass. The legislature would not convene for another two years but du Pont was optimistic of its passage going forward. It was not in his character to fiddle over incidentals.
Alfred collected names of all those who qualified for his proposed pension plan. For the next two years, he paid out of his own pocket $200,000.00 per year to these Delawareans... anonymously.
A few years later A.I fully subscribed to the aspirations of FDR's New Deal, pointing out he had been advocating these issues for years. He believed in the reapportionment of wealth in the country, giving more to the needy and less to the rich.
The Nemours Foundation was originally chartered to care not only for children with orthopedic problems but also pensioners. He wrote: 'The Nemours Foundation shall be created and maintained as a memorial to my great, great grandfather, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours....for the purpose of maintaining...a charitable institution for the care and treatment of crippled children, but not incurables, or the care of old men or old women, and particularly couples, first consideration, in each instance, being given to beneficiaries who are residents of Delaware.'
A.I's net worth at his death at 70 years in January of 1935. He and his third wife Jessie Ball du Pont created the concept for Nemours Foundation. They originally considered the Mansion to be converted into the hospital. Jessie and her brother Ed Ball outlived him by many years and invested millions in Florida.
Said the modest A.I. “My philosophy of life is simple: be fair to every one; do as much good as you can. Be honest with yourself, which means, be honest with everybody.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

COLLABAGALA: The Gargantua of Non-Profit Giving

Innovation comes easy to Ajit George, founder of the nationally regarded and highly successful Meals From the Masters fund raiser for Meals on Wheels Delaware, now in its 15th year. This event has become a signature of statewide benevolence and consumes an entire week of bountiful benevolence and gastronomic gorging.
His immediate brainstorm is Collabagala; i.e. Collaboration + Gala, to be staged at the Chase Center November 17. One hundred per cent of the net proceeds will benefit 10 Delaware charities. They are Blood Bank of Delmarva, Westside Healthcare, American Lung Association, Best Buddies of Delaware, Catholic Charities, Delaware Center for Justice, Newark Day Nursery and Children's Center, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Read Aloud Delaware and YWCA.
The RDC, the Chase Center and Strongpoint Marketing (George's firm) are the founding sponsors. Founding media sponsor is the News Journal.
The Delaware Community Foundation and DANA (Delaware Association of Non-Profit Agencies) are in the mix as well, although not beneficiaries.
Says Chris Grundner, CEO of DANA, “We chose to get involved in Collabagala as a partner because we believe the event could be a game-changer and it is important for us as the sector leader to help push the envelope a bit in the community. Because the event is brand new and so ground-breaking, we expect it to grow over time and get bigger and bigger each year.”
The founding sponsors are removing all the risks that non-profits confront when staging a fund raiser: management and promotion. The beneficiaries must sell tickets and solicit Silent Auction items from their respective lists of donors.
George expects well over $100,000.00 in auction items. Coming from so many different organizations, they will be copious and diverse.
Exclaims Ginny Marino, CEO of YWCA, 'Collabagala is a game changer and we are thrilled to be a part.”
Mary Hirschbiel, ED of Read Aloud Delaware, echoes the sentiments of all of the charities. “We look forward to sharing our story a wider community.”
The exposure that all will achieve in the “Collaboration” is ten times what they could do on their own. When a charity stages their own in house Silent Auction or other event, everyone knows about them from the starting line. This is reinforced by Michael Waite, Director of Marketing and Communications at Blood Bank of Delmarva. “This is an opportunity for us to collaborate (there's that word again!) with other non-profits. BBD does not do many special events so it is a chance to get involved with a fun event in a different atmosphere.”
The theme is James Bond, appropriate to the premiere of the new Bond movie at the new Penn Cinema at the Riverfront. (They are donating 1000 tickets).
The $125.00 ticket price includes food, open bar and $25 of chips for Casino Royale.
George admits he has no idea the turnout, but is laying the groundwork. The mantra of entrepreneurs will forever be....”with great risks come even greater rewards!”
For tickets and donations to the Silent Auction
To become a sponsor, connect with Strongpoint Marketing 302.295.5060

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Marie Dugan: Educating the Absorbent Mind

It all started in 'the little red schoolhouse' in Arden DE in 1971, a rather non-prepossessing multi- purpose facility a/k/a The Buzz Ware Center.
Now, Wilmington Montessori School, only a mile from its birthplace, is a 65,000 sq ft building on 25 acres; the state's largest and acknowledged as one of the top 10 Montessori's nationally. The school was the first to be jointly accredited both by Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA) and the American Montessori Society. Dugan, Head of School, has garnered numerous awards owing to her efforts for 'her children' and the Montessori mission nationally.
WMS has received a $1 million matching gift from an anonymous donor. This occasion marks the beginning of a fund raising campaign as they celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2013-2014.
How and why this success? By the drive of Marie Dugan, one who found her sole mission in life decades ago and nurtured it to fruition. “The gift is a tribute to 50 more years of joyful learning”, says Dugan. She is confidant in securing the matching funds.
Dugan is back at WMS after leaving the school in 2000. She was asked to be the Coordinator for the Center For Montessori Management Management (CMSM) in White Plains NY., where teachers and administrators achieve credentials from the American Montessori Society.

Now she is back to her beginnings in Delaware as interim Head of School. While she would be the last to admit this, the grant had all to due with her return. Word traveled quickly. Enrollment is up.
To understate, parents, teachers, staff – and most importantly students are thrilled. Dugan, typically modest, paraphrases the book Everything I Know I Learned in Kindergarten with ...”everything I know I learned here at WMS!”
When my first child was two, I had misgivings over sending him to school half the day. That was a mite young, I considered; allied to yet one more expense for a new family. He could do better at home with Mom. Two decades later I was proven wrong. That investment gave as much a return to him - and to his parents - as did DuPont's investment in nylon.
From the 1st...okay, maybe the 3rd or 4th son loved going to school. He loved his teachers and they loved him back. Dugan had two-way mirrors installed where parents could watch their child interact with teachers and peers. Mothers would spend hours there. They gained knowledge about their children. Priceless encounters and precious relationships created behind those mirrors.
There is this native African term “it takes a village”. It does not take long for parents to discover the village that Montessori encompasses.

Montessori education is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. These elements are essential:
  • Multi-aged classrooms; ages 0 to 12 years
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • A 'discovery' model where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
From birth to age 6, the Montessori method observes that the child undergoes striking physical and psychological development. The child is seen as a concrete, sensorial explorer and learner engaged in the developmental work of psychological self-construction and building functional independence. Montessori introduces several concepts to explain this work, including the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, and normalization.
Absorbent mind: Montessori described the young child's behavior of effortlessly assimilating the sensorial stimuli of his or her environment, including information from the senses, language, culture, and the development of concepts with the term "absorbent mind". It believed that this is a power unique to the first plane, and that it fades as the child approached age six.
Sensitive periods: Also observed are periods of special sensitivity to particular stimuli during this time called the "sensitive periods". In Montessori education, the classroom environment responds to these periods by making appropriate materials and activities available while the periods are active in the young child. Identified are the following periods and their durations:
  • Acquisition of language—from birth to around six years old
  • Order—from around one to three years old
  • Sensory refinement—from birth to around four years old
  • Interest in small objects—from around 18 months to three years old
  • Social behavior—from around two and a half to four years old
WMS' elementary program students continue through grade 6.. Outcomes include confident, competent learners,independent, intrinsically motivated, socially responsible, academically prepared for seventh grade.
Dugan this year initiated a class with babies of only 6 months. For them, she opines, there is truly a whole lot of world to absorb. 302 475.0555

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Sea Change at DTC with "The Outgoing Tide"

The times they are a changin' at Delaware Theater Company. Bud Martin, the new Producing Artistic Director, has transfused the 3 decades old institution with game changing steroids.
Aisle Say has always been impressed when one such as Al Pacino consistently works on refining his craft in New York live theatre. Both motion pictures and tv acting is easy. As Peter Strauss, the star of DTC's “The Outgoing Tide” commented to me after a packed house opening last Saturday, ...”in live theatre you're out there naked for an hour and half. You mess up, and everybody knows it.”
(Strauss and Nick Nolte starred in the provocative mini series “Rich Man, Poor Man” in the '70's)
.While Michael Learned of “The Waltons” fame may be the biggest name of the 3 person show, this is Strauss' show playing Gunner, a husband and father who has hatched an unorthodox plan to secure his family's future. The idea is met with much consternation by his wife (Peg) and grown son, Jack (Ian Lithgow).
Playwright – and Philadelphia native – Bruce Graham has wonderfully articulated a brutal dilemma of growing old. It is impossible to believe that the plot did not resonate profoundly with the audience. Gunner is at early stage dementia (although Strauss emphasized to me this could be any ailment...any disease.)
Interspersing dark humor with pathos, one is not sure where we are headed in Act 1. The playwright's conceit was to switch scenes decades back to create familiarity with the family dynamic. Strauss, for example, went from a young father to a crotchety old man with Alzheimers. Peg was always the over protective mother.
Jack (Lithgow) was an only child of a sarcastic, teasing and rough-edged father. The naïve son believed everything Dad said.
Jack: Why didn't I have a brother or a sister?
Gunner: You weren't the only kid. You were the only one we kept. We sold your two brothers to the circus. (At that point, Jack, as a child, starts crying).
Peg wants to put Gunner in an assisted living facility. After 50 years of marriage, she is weary now of his forgetfulness and doesn't feel she can properly care for him. “We could do a murder-suicide, but he would probably forget to shoot himself!”
Gunner will have none of the assisted living idea, PERIOD. He waxes on the reason for living...”If I don't know you, what's the point?”
Gunner has a plan to tie up loose ends. He will commit suicide so that the family can collect double indemnity life insurance. Peg is outraged, but he demands her blessing before he can go forward in his last dinghy ride with his bottle of scotch.
Are the ends tied? I will leave that for the future audiences. This is a difficult play, gut-wrenching and supremely acted.
Note to director: as a father who at times has had his own strained relations with his son, boy... would I love to see a hug in the final scene.
Through October 28 302.594.1100
Next up is “A Christimas Carol”, then “Boeing Boeing” directed by consummate actor/director of UD Rep Ensemble Steve Tague. DTC's first full blown Broadway musical, “South Pacific” ends the season, directed by Bud Martin and choreographed by our local legend, Sonny Leo.