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Expanding STEM Access through Collaborative Philanthropy

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Imagine a classroom in which you can… learn about bird biodiversity while making a puppet, try out entrepreneurship by making and selling pizza, explore recycling by making upcycled jewelry, pilot a drone, sing in Swahili in a West African drum circle, and MORE. And, it’s right outside your front door in your very own community, for you and your family to learn and grow together.

This “classroom” is Remake Learning Days, a festival that celebrates the many hands-on learning opportunities in a community. This celebration of innovative learning started in Pittsburgh, PA., and now takes place each spring in more than 15 regions across the globe—including Uruguay, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. 

This blog highlights the collaboration of The DeBruce Foundation, KC STEM Alliance, and Community Capital Fund to increase access to Remake Learning Days learning experiences in under-resourced neighborhoods and to reduce barriers to attendance by helping organizations across the region offer events at no charge. 

Below, see how organizations including Westside CAN Center, Mathapalooza, and the Housing Authority of Kansas City used this support to create meaningful explorations of STEM for young people and their families.

Remake Learning Days KC

In The DeBruce Foundation’s hometown of Kansas City, Remake Learning Days KC just completed its third year of learning celebrations. Coordinated locally by KC STEM Alliance, Remake Learning Days KC 2023 featured 160 events led by 72 host organizations, reaching 7,000+ young people and families. Additionally, 14 events were organized as Real World Learning Client-Connected Projects. 

Removing barriers through collaboration

When Remake Learning Days KC launched in 2021, The DeBruce Foundation understood that even a small amount of funding can go a long way when inviting non-profits and small businesses to offer a free learning event for their community. The Foundation funded low-barrier mini-grants to help organizations cover some of their expenses. But because the systems in place required a 501(c)3 designation, some neighborhood associations, newer nonprofits, and small local businesses or individuals could not apply. This challenge informed what would come next–a collaboration between The DeBruce Foundation, KC STEM Alliance, and Community Capital Fund.

Through this partnership, The DeBruce Foundation provided funding for mini-grants, which were managed and distributed by Community Capital Fund. This allowed for KC STEM Alliance to manage the coordination and operations of Remake Learning Days, The DeBruce Foundation to invest in this initiative preparing young people for their future, and Community Capital Fund to extend funding to the entities that have the greatest access and impact to reach more of Kansas City. Through this partnership, Remake Learning Days events reached more zip codes, more neighborhoods, and more families than ever before, making STEM opportunities more accessible and equitable for our community. Read on for a glimpse of this collaboration from the lens of The DeBruce Foundation’s partners. 

Community Capital Fund

Community Capital Fund (CCF) is a Community Development Corporation that provides grants, technical assistance, and coaching to support under-resourced neighborhoods and businesses in the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan Area, helping to advance Asset Based Community Development and increase financial, human, and social capital. 

From Phyllis Hardwick, Executive Director of CCF

When this partnership opportunity arose, I said, “That sounds like a match made in heaven.” I think this partnership is really smart for making sure that this was an opportunity to 1:  build capacity amongst neighborhood-based organizations and 2: take the experience of Remake Learning Days to different parts of our city. It made sure that kiddos can be met where they are with real-world learning experiences and project-based learning initiatives. 

At CCF, we have put a little over $4 million in the Kansas City region in the last three years with multiple partners. Since 2008, $1 million of our funding has gone to neighborhoods–over 100 neighborhoods and community-based organizations–so these really are our people. 

Phyllis Hardwick,
Executive Director of CCF

Managing this grant allowed us to meet partners where they were, in a trust-based relationship. When an organization is applying for a grant, there are naturally tricky or difficult questions that come up; terms like “administrative expense” or “capacity building,” can create barriers for organizations that don’t have professional staff to engage with grants all the time. Many neighborhood organizations we work with have 4-5 volunteers and are exercising the yeoman’s work of doing really really great things for kids and our community. So, we work arm and arm with organizations, making sure they feel confident and supported. Then, it’s an especially big deal when they land a grant from a funder like The DeBruce Foundation. It’s a big deal for that project and for future funding with other entities. 

A total of 48 organizations participated in this program for about $25,000, which is pretty remarkable. This was probably the most diverse set of grant partners that I’ve had for any fund: this was anyone who wanted to do great things for kids, and it resulted in 82 events for our community. We saw a very diverse set of stakeholders carry that out, which really makes this grant program pretty special. 

When stakeholders are close to the community, embedded in it, or share the same experiences as the community, that impact goes further. When you’re close to that solution, the amount of funds you need in order to have a great impact is just so much less; it’s a completely different return on investment. By funding good ideas from people closest to the problems and solutions, we can make a big difference. 

Get to know a few of these organizations that used grant funding to support their efforts, community knowledge, and care to expand access to STEM learning throughout Kansas City:

Westside Community Action Network

Westside CAN’s mission is to facilitate the creation of a safe, healthy, viable, civically-engaged neighborhood in which to live, play and work. Their Remake Learning Days event was held at their community orchard, featuring opportunities to see and learn about their new colony of bees. 

From Jorge Coromac, Director of Westside CAN

Collaboration, trust, and serving our community–these are three things we want to see in a partnership and why we said “yes” to this beautiful opportunity. It allowed us to collaborate on many levels–from our local neighborhood volunteers to international organizers of Remake Learning Days. Knowing the longevity of The DeBruce Foundation and KC STEM Alliance, we knew this wasn’t going to be a one-time opportunity then, “see you in 20 years.” We knew that this investment was serious business and a relationship that cares about what we do and how we do it. It allowed us to serve our community in the ways we need. For example, you provided me with stylish marketing materials, translated into Spanish and customizable so we could make them especially culturally relevant and friendly for the community with our own pictures and phrases. 

Jorge Coromac,
Director of Westside CAN

When planning events for our community, we take a holistic approach. For this event, we considered how it will affect our local economy, how this learning can be taken into the future, and how this connects with food and nutrition. Economically, because of our funding, this event was free, and it was within walking distance. For our learning, bees are incredibly important to our ecosystem, yet people don’t know this. And in connection to nutrition, we are in an area in which it is a challenge to have fresh food. Put these together, and we’re providing an accessible event that teaches families about the ecosystems and the important role they play in protecting our environment and the bees. 

We invited families to visit our beehives, but many were nervous to get close enough to see the bees. Thanks to the funding, we were able to bring the learning to them: we bought binoculars! Little things make a big difference when they give people access. 

We enjoyed an afternoon of families of all ages visiting the beehives. One particular family stands out, as they had 3 kids, including a 12-year-old who was especially scared of the bees. She would run away as soon as we said “bees.” She was so scared and sure they were going to bite her. I introduced her to some of our bees and a hive that are in a clear glass container for viewing. I explained that they’re not doing anything to hurt her; they’re just working! They’re having fun in there. She was able to put her hand on the glass and could feel their buzzing. She stayed there for at least an hour and a half, just watching. 

In just an afternoon, fear and misunderstanding of bees–which leads to killing them and damaging our environment–turned into this beautiful moment. We talked about how the queen of the colony is much like this girl when she takes care of her brothers at home, making sure they do their homework and chores. By the end of the afternoon, she was smiling, happy, and proudly wearing play bee antennas. 

If you mentor them at this age, that impact is forever. She was asking: how can I learn more about bees? This led to a discussion about how she could become a beekeeper one day or how she can go to college to study more and help the bees in other ways. 

You might have heard our saying, “Westside Best Side,” but that day, we changed it to “Westside Beeee Side.” 


Mathapalooza engages people of all ages in mathematical explorations outside the standard K-12 curriculum; it introduces students to possible careers in mathematics through career jumping events; and it provides support for teachers interested in learning how to include inquiry and hands-on math activities in their classrooms. At their Remake Learning Days event, Kansas City Public School students gathered for mathematical games, puzzles, and crafts to engage in the beauty of mathematics.

From Dr. Zdeňka Guadarrama, co-founder of Mathapalooza 

Mathapalooza focuses on reducing mathematical anxiety in the community and sparking enjoyment of mathematics. We do this by engaging participants of all ages in mathematical play experiences. In other words, whether a person realizes it or not, they are experiencing mathematics just by the simple act of playing. For Remake Learning Days 2023, we collaborated with Philomina Lawson, Mathematics Curriculum Coordinator at Kansas City Public Schools, to take what we call our Mathematical Playground to 3rd and 4th graders at seven elementary schools in the KC Metro.

Dr. Zdeňka Guadarrama,
co-founder of Mathapalooza

The Mathematical Playground consists of a collection of building games, puzzles, and activities that students rotate through. Some of the activities provide a specific challenge. For example: use this set of “weirdly shaped” magnets to build a cube, while some activities are more focused on free play, like building hats or birdhouses made of Geometiles® regular polygons.

At Phillips Elementary, a teacher remarked about how a student who has difficulties engaging in the classroom not only had a wonderful time thinking through difficult challenges at Mathapalooza, but he persevered and succeeded. These are exactly the moments we work for!

Housing Authority of Kansas City

The Housing Authority of Kansas City, Missouri (HAKC), established in 1941, provides affordable housing for eligible low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly through 1,722 Public Housing units and manages 8,626 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) for area landlords.

HAKC’s Remake Learning Days event served residents of the Housing Authority and gave children the opportunity to participate in four exciting nature activities: making bird feeders, pressing flowers, making a terrarium, and creating giant bubbles. 

From Bria Brown, Resident Services, HAKC

We work with a special group of 170 families through a grant called the Choice Neighborhood Initiative. In addition to helping them achieve housing stability, we also focus on health, education, and employment. Remake Learning Days perfectly aligns with our education focus for our families. It’s taken on an increased importance, as, following the pandemic, many kids in our development have had a hard time transitioning from virtual learning back to school. Helping them re-engage is a top priority for us; the more we can provide activities that are free, structured, and enriching, the better. It engages the kids while building rapport with our families; it shows we’re listening and we want to continue to create more programs that fit their needs.

Bria Brown,
Resident Services, HAKC

With these focuses in mind, we hosted our event in the middle of two of our housing developments; it’s the perfect community place where several developments can walk to participate in this learning activity. We decided on a nature theme for our event and incorporated lessons about recycling, and it was so much fun! It was so fun that the kids were taking their flower presses home and coming back to do the project again. 

Not only were families attending and having fun, but an unexpected thing happened: instead of kids taking their new bird feeders back home with them, one by one, they chose to hang them on a big tree by our community playground. By the end of the event, we had a tree full of bird feeders that kids would come by to see with their families days later. It ended up being a bigger part of the community than we even planned. 

The stories above show a glimpse of the impact made through this partnership and how philanthropic collaboration can extend access and impact throughout our communities. The DeBruce Foundation is grateful to all partners for their role in expanding pathways. Learn more about the organizations featured: The DeBruce Foundation, KC STEM Alliance, Community Capital Fund, Westside CAN, Mathapalooza, and Housing Authority of Kansas City, as well as other participating organizations such as Agape Grow, ReUseful, Coloratura, and more. Learn more about Remake Learning Days and join the fun next year!

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