by Jesse Galef —
The Stiefel Freethought Foundation marked its launch today by announcing that it was giving the Secular Student Alliance a $50,000 grant to help support atheist high school students. I’m clearly biased (I work for the SSA), but I think this is fantastic news. The press release:
Atheist teenagers around the country are likely to find something new this school year – an active group of like-minded peers. The Stiefel Freethought Foundation marked its official launch today by announcing a $50,000 grant to help organize and support high school groups for nonreligious teenagers. The program, to be run by the Secular Student Alliance, will offer both resources and hands-on assistance to teenagers promoting positive secular values in their lives and on their campuses.
“These students have the passion and the numbers to create a more compassionate, reason-driven society,” said Todd Stiefel, founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. “What they often lack is the support. Our foundation is delighted to provide them with the opportunities they deserve.”
The program aims to foster groups of students who want to create a community for current and budding nontheists, educate themselves and others about secular values, and act upon those values through service projects. The grant will fund a variety of resources for such students including group-starting kits, group-running guides, leadership training, discounted access to prominent speakers, and monetary project grants.
The newly launched Stiefel Freethought Foundation was founded with the mission to gain respect for freethinkers and ensure the complete separation of church and state.
Stiefel, a businessman who retired last year at age 34 to become a full-time secular activist and philanthropist, has a history of supporting students. In March, Todd and his wife donated $20,000 through the American Humanist Association to help sponsor the Second Chance Prom for Constance McMillen after she was not allowed to take her girlfriend to her school’s prom. At the end of 2009, he gave a $50,000 matching challenge gift to the Secular Student Alliance, the organization now tasked with carrying out Stiefel’s vision.
The Secular Student Alliance (SSA), a national nonprofit devoted to assisting nonreligious students, already supports a network of over 200 affiliates on college campuses. They currently have twelve high school affiliates, up from six last year. They expect today’s grant to fuel that number’s growth.
“We’re thrilled that the Stiefel Freethought Foundation is helping us extend our services to more high school students,” said SSA Communications Director Jesse Galef. “Investing in students builds the foundation for a more rational society in which nontheists are valued members of the community.”
Woot. What a way for the Stiefel Freethought Foundation to launch! Todd Stiefel himself has already been doing a lot on a personal level, but today’s grant is a big splash for his new foundation.
This has the potential to make big ripples in the secular movement in the long run. Though we always have to be careful to empower students rather than tell them what to do and believe (as if they would listen to us anyway), high schoolers really need support. One of the resources the SSA produces is a “Nontheistic Students in Your High School” brochure (pdf here) – an educator’s guide to understanding nontheistic students. You can request them (free!) here.
Nonreligious high school students can be an extremely marginalized and isolated group. If they had a more welcoming community, more organizational help, and the sense that they’re connected to a larger movement, it can make a world of difference.
I’m so glad the Stiefel Freethought Foundation sees the value in supporting these students. We’re seeing more interest in high schools, so the timing of this grant is perfect. With its help, we can do a lot more for them.