The Watson-Brown Foundation, a Thomson-based philanthropic organization that provides college scholarships and promotes historic preservation, puts the power to save significant places in the hands of its junior board members. Since 2000, the junior board, which is composed of students from Richmond, Columbia, McDuffie and other nearby counties, has distributed about $500,000 in grant money.
Each school year, the board begins by learning about historic preservation and grant writing at its monthly meetings. Then, the members accept grants and work together as a board to decide which place or group they would most like to help.
“We sit around a big executive table and hash out all the details of the grant,” said Marlee Garner, a Harlem High School student and the board’s vice president.
The junior board allocated $33,000 in 2011. Meadow Gardens, the historic home of Declaration of Independence signer George Walton, accepted a check for $18,000 this month to assist with repairs to the Augusta home.
The number of grant applications received yearly differs, but the board generally tries to spread the grant money around to fund as many local projects as possible. In recent years, the group has focused on the most critical preservation needs.
“Meadow Gardens has some serious problems with their windows and siding. If we don’t so something about it, it’s going to cause major damage to the house,” said Michelle Zupan, the coordinator for the junior board.
For Kelly McGahee, a senior at Westminster Schools of Augusta, exploring historical sites has spurred an interest in architecture. A trip to Savannah, Ga., two years ago exposed McGahee to historical and more modern architectural styles.
“This has given me a real appreciation for history,” she said. “I see the little details in houses that otherwise I wouldn’t notice.”
The board also granted $7,500 to the McCormick Arts Council last year. Previous projects included funding repairs at the Robert Toombs House in Wilkes County, Ga.
The junior board begins recruiting new members in April. The board specializing in Augusta-area preservation meets at the Hickory Hill House in Thomson. Two other boards operate in Athens, Ga., and Milledgeville, Ga.