Awesome at 85: Block Island's Mary Donnelly and the Power of Private Charity





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Published on Jan 8, 2013

"The fact that the Mary D Fund can take care of people, it's an amazing privilege," said Mary Donnelly of Block Island, a small community located 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island.

Donnelly is the island's state nurse and administrator of the Mary D Fund, a charity she created to provide year-round residents with much needed financial help during the harsh winter months. Last year, the 85-year-old mother of seven gave grants totaling $50,000 to roughly 30 percent of the island's 1,000 residents.

Donnelly has paid bills as big as a mortgage and as small as a ferry ticket to the mainland. Recipients must meet three requirements: They must be year-round residents of Block Island, they must request the help in person or by letter, and they must give Donnelly the actual bill to pay. She also tells them "they have to take a money-management course" to help mininmize future financial squeezes. Donnelly says that she was moved when, after recently giving someone a small check, "they returned it, saying they realized other people would need it more than them."

The charity takes no government money, relying instead on individual donations and grants. By not taking taxpayer money or having government oversight, Donnelly says she is able to better manage where the money goes.

In an America that is struggling economically, bailing out whole industries, and dead-set on implementing a government-run health care system, Donnelly is an inspiring figure who can teach us a lot about how to help our friends and neighbors.

About 3 minutes. Produced by Amanda Winkler with camera work by Joshua Swain and narration by Nick Gillespie.

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