Susan Littlefield, a Vice President of Meadowbrook’s Board of Trustees, and her husband Martin Roper -- parents to Christopher (class of 2015), second grader Peter and fourth grader Thomas -- were one of the first couples that we talked to about the current capital campaign, way before it was even titled “Imagine More,” back in January 2015. After we reviewed the goals of the campaign -- $25 million for the new Academic Center, $5 million for financial aid, and $5 million for the Steve Hinds Faculty Support Program -- the couple responded quite clearly: they would make an immediate and significant gift, and they wanted to keep it unrestricted.
A few weeks ago, Director of Advancement Janice Thompson sat down with Susan and Martin to once again thank them for their extraordinary gift. She also wanted to find out why they chose to structure their campaign commitment the way that they did, and what motivated their philanthropy.
She asked them: there are many specific ways that donors can choose to make an impact on this campaign, both in the building and endowment areas. You gave your gift very early in the process, and you chose not to target any one of those “buckets.” Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Martin: we made this commitment in recognition of what Meadowbrook has meant to our family’s lives over the past 11 years. We trust and have faith in the governance structure and leadership of Meadowbrook to allocate the money because they see the best uses of the gift for current and future generations.
Susan: I feel very comfortable that the team that drives the school will use the money in a very effective way, will continue to make it an exemplary organization for my kids, for their classmates, and for future generations of students. We love the different campaign goals -- the new building, the endowment initiatives -- and we understand that many people like to see the specific impact their donations have on the school. But we wanted to give Steve and the leadership of the school as much flexibility as possible in the use of our gift.
Janice asked: how has this perspective of trust developed over the years since Christopher joined the JK class in 2004?
Susan: we certainly didn’t come in considering the overall management of the school -- we knew its reputation for rigorous academics, and were impressed with Steve’s passion for the school when we interviewed with him, a passion that we didn’t necessarily see in other headmasters. Over time as we’ve watched how the school is led, how it has changed, how the curriculum constantly changes, and how our teachers “know, love and challenge” all three of our boys more and more with each passing year, our dedication has just grown along with it.
Martin: at first we were very impressed with Steve and with the teachers. But as we’ve gotten more involved, through various committees, and now with Susan’s being on the board, we’ve seen firsthand the changes Susan is talking about. I’m a numbers kind of guy, so I’ve watched projects like the new gym, the MacDowell Center, the new fields -- along with the increase in teacher support through programs like the MLI and other professional development -- from a capital perspective with amazement and admiration. I’ve seen that this investment has been made by the school and by past donors for current and future students, and it hasn’t come from the Annual Fund.
Tell me more about that -- how do you feel your gift fits in with past and future campaigns?
Martin: by the time Peter graduates, we will have been at Meadowbrook for 17 years. Usually a family is at the school for just one campaign, and that’s true for us. We came at the tail end of Pillars (the last capital campaign) so we weren’t heavily involved with that one. When we thought about our Imagine More commitment, we thought about those 17 years, and came up with a number that we thought was a good one to recognize that entire span -- almost like an amortization.
Susan: those buildings that Martin was talking about earlier, we know that they were made possible by donors before us, and our kids benefited from them. The fields across the street just came on-line when Christopher started using them for sports. He had a classmate from a family who named the new gym. We feel like we can do our part to advance that past trend for future classes of students.
At $35 million, this campaign is by far the most audacious in Meadowbrook’s history. Can you comment on that?
Susan: It’s right for Meadowbrook to be ambitious. It’s a school at the top of its game, it’s had tremendous leadership, Steve has created an incredible legacy and an incredible team at the school. The campaign has the right set of goals. They are going to enhance the school community as well as how teachers teach.
Martin: Unless you set ambitious goals you’ll only achieve the ordinary. As Susan says, the school is at the top of its game, able to attract an incredible array of students, parents, administrators and faculty. We should seize the opportunity if we have the opportunity to cement that for the future. These chances come cyclically -- they don’t come every year or even every decade -- there is an opportunity here for a very ambitious project, and we should take it.
One last question. You really stretched to make this gift. Should others as well?
Susan: We’ve seen other people stretch over the years. They’ve really done a lot, and we thought it was appropriate for us to do that, too. To follow others’ lead.
Martin: We’ve decided to focus our philanthropy toward three or four organizations, and we think Meadowbrook should get a reasonable share of that decision. As parents we are all still growing our careers, and when you think about it, we’re always stretching, whether we’re buying a house or starting a new company. These decisions -- these commitments -- might feel like a stretch now, but they won’t feel like that in five years’ time. They will become a natural part of what you think is important. We are very happy to stretch and support Meadowbrook’s current success and future potential.