Funding the fight: OptiMize grants $25,000 to COVID-19 response projects

Monday, May 11, 2020 - 7:02pm

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Cara Jhang

Last month, optiMize, a student organization offering funding and guidance to students leading self-directed projects, launched its Community Aid Relief Fund. The $25,000 fund will provide students with support for mutual aid and community-based projects responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Through the fund, students at the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College had the ability to apply for a grant up to $5,000 to support their community project.

Business sophomore Megha Kunju, optiMize storytelling and marketing lead, told The Daily the organization decided to create the fund to support college students leading their communities in the fight against COVID-19.

“We exist to help students make a positive impact in their communities and in this moment of crisis, we saw so many inspiring examples of student leaders and community members working on various projects to help each other,” Kunju said. “As an organization that funds social-impact projects, it just made sense that we would do what we can to provide some support to these efforts.”

The Community Aid Relief Fund granted money to nine projects serving Washtenaw county through a variety of ways, including supporting the undocumented community and making personal protective equipment.

Kunju said that the mission of optiMize is to help students ask the question that if no one is stepping up, “why not me?” Kunju said the leaders of these nine projects stood out to them as people who had asked that question. 

“This is their project,” she said. “We are just there to support them and give them the support that they need.” 

LSA senior Lindsay Calka is the Vice President of Michigan Movement, an organization that gives aid to people experiencing homelessness and poverty in the Washtenaw community. She also works for Groundcover News, a street newspaper that works to raise awareness about homelessness and combat poverty.

Calka orchestrated a “deferred donation” from the Community Aid Relief Fund through Michigan Movement, who then donated the money to Groundcover. OptiMize’s fund granted $4,200 to this project.

“We are donating on behalf of optiMize through Michigan Movement,” Calka said. “Groundcover didn’t need care packages like we usually do. They just needed money because vendors lost their jobs basically being unable to sell paper on the street. And so that was the best call that we made, that was just to straight up give the money to Groundcover to have in their fund for them to allocate to vendors as needed.”

LSA junior Amytess Girgis,co-founder and co-host of the Mutuality Podcast project, applied for the grant. The podcast has since been renamed to “Concerning Us: Stories of Organizing, Resistance and Resilience.”

“(Since I’m) a college student and (my co-founder is) a recent graduate, it’s not like we have a ton of money lying around,” Girgis said. “When we heard that optiMize was offering these grants to help folks get projects started, we applied right away.” 

The fund granted the Mutuality Podcast $2,000. The soon-to-be-released podcast aims to propel the voices of people doing critical work to support the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Without this grant, we wouldn't have been able to afford audio equipment and since we can’t go to the U-M libraries right now to use their equipment, we needed to get our own,” Girgis said. 

She also noted that the funding has allowed them to offer a stipend to the guests that they have on the show, as well as to compensate some of the podcast’s staff.

Daily Staff Reporter John Grieve can be reached at jgrieve@umich.edu