Waynflete’s Third Thought program receives significant grant from Unum

Waynflete has received a $50,000 grant from Unum to support The Can We? Project, one of several initiatives run by the school’s Third Thought Institute for Civic Engagement program. Grant funds will be provided over a two-year period.

The Can We? Project grew out of Waynflete’s commitment to diversity as a condition of excellence. The program empowers students to address the fractured state of our country and world by harnessing their unique capacity to engage in productive dialogue in the service of the common good. By cultivating empathy and the skills of dialogue across differences, the project helps prepare the next generation of civic leaders to address today’s urgent challenge of destabilizing and paralyzing political polarization. By asking questions for deeper understanding and being better able to recognize the humanity of others, Can We? participants learn how to create common ground on which to collaborate.

Unum has long been recognized as a company that is committed to developing and supporting healthy communities,” said Third Thought Director John Holdridge. “In offering financial support to The Can We? Project, Unum‘s Inclusive Impact Fund has recognized that building empathy and fostering civil dialogue are all essential factors in creating a positive and hopeful future for everyone in Maine.”

The initial iteration of The Can We? Project brought together 30 students from seven high schools across Maine who represented a diverse range of backgrounds, political viewpoints, and life experiences. Beginning with a three-day weekend retreat, and followed by occasional collaborative sessions over a five-month period, students worked with experienced facilitators to learn how to talk across deep divides, develop a shared vision of a better Maine, and design an interactive forum with political leadership. Students were asked to question their own ideas, challenge each other, and collaborate. In the process, they developed basic democratic skills that seem lost in this divisive moment: valuing dialogue, mediating differences, holding elected officials accountable, and working collectively for a higher purpose.

“At Unum, we recognize the importance of giving back to our local communities,” said Cary Olson Cartwright, Assistant Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at Unum. “This grant to The Can We? Project is a meaningful step in Unum’s ongoing mission to work together with community partners and create positive change.”

With financial support from organizations like Unum, The Can We? Project will scale up over a five-year period, working directly with up to 1,800 students from 45 high schools across Maine. This work will be carried out in collaboration with Partner School Liaisons and individuals at organizations such as Narrative 4, Maine Policy Institute, Jobs for Maine Graduates, Maine Principals Association, Maine Youth Votes, and the Maine C3 Extended Learning Opportunities Network. 

“This significant Unum grant is a clear indication that the program is resonating in the community,” said Waynflete Head of School Geoff Wagg. “There is a tangible benefit to creating opportunities for kids to learn dialogue skills. We’ve seen it with our own students. Now, with the help of organizations like Unum, we can extend this skill training to high school students across Maine.” 

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