All Maine newborns can receive $500 for college
First in the nation — Harold Alfond College Challenge goes statewide
Article and photos by Ramona du Houx
February 13th, 2009
Jewett Hall at UMA in Augusta was brimming with over 150 babies and their smiling parents last December 11, giving thanks to the Alfond Foundation for establishing the Harold Alfond College Challenge, which will now be available to all babies born in Maine.
“Today with the future, as Harold would say, we celebrate a year of Harold’s vision being put to work. Now every newborn in Maine will share in that vision. Harold believed that every Maine child deserves this start,” said Alfond Foundation Chairman Gregory Powell.
The Alfond College Challenge pilot program gave $500 of scholarship funds to more than 1,200 Maine newborns born at MaineGeneral hospitals in Waterville and Augusta in 2008.
“I feel like we’re in the old days, on the fifth floor of Freese’s Department Store, and we are all waiting in line for Santa Claus. The excitement and enthusiasm is wonderful,” said Governor John Baldacci. “Today, Harold Alfond is our Santa, and I got to kiss and hold all these babies.”
Harold Alfond made his wealth building Dexter shoe from the ground up. He never had a college education but appreciated that in the 21st century everyone needs one to live the American Dream. His legacy started with the traditional practice he had with his own children and grandchildren; at every birth he would give their parents $500 for their future educations.
“Harold Alfond wanted all Maine children to have the opportunity to pursue higher education and to enjoy the benefits such education would bring to them and our state,” said Baldacci. “He wanted Maine to lead the nation in making higher education a right and responsibility for all.”
The challenge is the nation’s first statewide philanthropic grant program of this kind. It is expected that more than 14,000 babies will be born in Maine next year. “It’s pretty impressive that this is a first program of its kind in the nation,” said Stephanie Cichowski, holding her infant Stella. “It makes me feel proud to be from Maine.”
Patricia Hawk attended the event with her husband Nathan Goodrich and five-month-old son Zander. “We wouldn’t have thought about saving for his education if it wasn’t for the $500 NextGen account. Now I see a positive future for Zander,” she said.
Dominique Giroux-Pare is four months old, from Winslow. “This is wonderful,” said her mother. “It encourages us to make sure she gets a college education. By the time they get to use it, the gift will be a lot more than $500. Once markets rebound, the interest will really begin to accrue.” Dominique’s parents will also put additional funds into the account.
The $500 in the NextGen federal 529 savings plan could grow to $2,000 by the time a child reaches college age.
Timothy Brown and Chelsea Rand from Bingham brought their son Jaden Brown to the celebration. “We would probably have started investing in his education ourselves, but this jumpstarted the process. It was a great opportunity, and we ran with it. We also took advantage of the matching grant,” said Timothy.
The Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) administers the NextGen savings plan for the Alfond Challenge. FAME’s general counsel, Beth Bordowitz, explained the additional help they offer for any Maine child:
“We run two matching grants. For Maine residents opening an account for any Maine child, if their income is $75,000 or less, FAME will provide $200 of the $250 necessary to open an account. So, if a parent puts in $50 we will put in $200 and get your NextGen account open,” said Bordowitz. “And to encourage continuing contributions into the account, for those with an income of $75,000 or less, FAME will match 50 percent of that contribution up to $200 per year.”
Governor Baldacci is an avid supporter of the Challenge program and had discussed the initial concept with Harold Alfond.
The program has also inspired others to contribute. “One of my friends donated to the college fund after she found out that I had signed my daughter Elena up in April when she was born,” said Christina Sobran of Waterville.
“Expanding the program for all of Maine is cause for great celebration,” said MaineGeneral Chief Executive Officer Scott Bullock, who partnered with the Alfond Foundation to administer the program in MaineGeneral hospitals, resulting in the successful pilot program.
There are many partners involved making the Alfond College Challenge a reality. If you would like to donate, partner, or participate visit: www.500forbaby.org or call 1-800-228-3734 or FAME.