The Chapman story

The Ely Chapman Education Foundation did not win a $25,000 social entrepreneurship award for which it was nominated, but the director of the program that bestows the prizes was too intrigued by the program and its founder to let that be the end of it.

So Howard Husock, vice president for policy research at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York-based think tank dedicated to fostering economic choice and individual responsibility, came to Marietta this week to learn more about the foundation and founder and Chairwoman Alice Chapman. After three days of observing Chapman and interviewing current and former students, employees and community leaders, he plans to write an article for the institute’s quarterly publication, City Journal.

“Something about it caught my eye,” said Husock, who served as director of case studies in public policy and management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for 19 years and writes the “Philanthropy and Society” blog on “This is a story that ought to be known further and wider than just Marietta.”

Chapman came to Marietta in 1996 to be closer to her husband Leroy’s mother. A music teacher and seamstress who worked with learning disabled students from college on, she helped start an after-school program at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in 1997. That was discontinued due to lack of funding two years later, but Chapman wasn’t ready to stop.

“I had seen that the program was desperately needed by the community,” she said. “I realized Marietta schools were doing the best they could with what they had – funding cut, funding cut, funding cut.”

Chapman said her first thought was to start a charter school, but those were only allowed in certain parts of the state at the time. She also considered a private school but realized both those options would divert funding from the public schools, further reducing the services they could offer.

Eventually, she started the S.U.N.S.H.I.N.E. Learning Station, with the lengthy acronym standing for School for Unusual Needs Students offering a Healthy, Individualized, Nurturing Education. She used money from a charitable remainders trust her mother set up prior to her death to establish the foundation, named for her mother’s maiden name and her husband’s surname. The foundation purchased the former Marietta High School at 403 Scammel St. as a headquarters.

“It’s giving me money that I have to give away to a 501(c)3,” Chapman said of the trust.

Husock found the way Chapman’s mother left her inheritance to her children “quite an amazing thing to be done.”

The S.U.N.S.H.I.N.E. Learning Station started in 1999 with three teachers and 24 students. Today, there are eight teachers and 54 students in the after-school program.

In 2003, the foundation added a middle school program that has grown from one teacher and six students to two teachers serving 15 students. Both programs serve students who are developmentally disabled and those who excel in school and need additional activities to keep them interested.

Other offerings at the foundation include a talented and gifted program for students in grades three through eight, Success and Honor Karate, Youth Theatre Program, the Living Rivers Cafe, Boy Scout Troop 231 and the Sensational Summer Camp, which includes developmentally disabled children.

Chapman isn’t just an administrator, taking an active role in the programs. She paused during an interview with Husock for a few minutes Tuesday to talk with a couple students about their assignments.

“She moved here from the East and kind of came out of nowhere to become a major charitable figure, not only supporting but doing herself,” Husock said.

The foundation was nominated for the award by Sandra Kolankiewicz, wife of Ely Chapman board President Hunt Brawley, at the suggestion of Carol Wharff with the Marietta Community Foundation.

Chapman said she was surprised to be considered for such an award, and that Husock took notice of the program.

“To be honest with you, I’m totally blown away,” she said. “I never went into this for any (recognition). My personal gratification is the kids.”

“I think it’s a wonderful publicity (opportunity) for the foundation,” Chapman said.

Husock said the article would probably appear in the winter edition of City Journal, which comes out around the first of the year.