Open Door Grants

Funding New Ideas

Jennifer Gilbert

Jennifer Gilbert supports the Boston Foundation’s Open Door Grants program. “As a donor, I like to contribute to things that are in the early stages and emerging. A real added value of being part of the Boston Foundation is that it’s a partner I can trust to go out there and find new ideas,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you want to see what the Foundation is finding and see if it fits with your goals?”

Jennifer Gilbert

Jennifer Gilbert has a favorite Egyptian proverb: “A clever woman can weave with a donkey’s hoof.” It was an auspicious day, then, when she met Madeleine Steczynski, the founder of ZUMIX. Both women have taken on problems as challenging as weaving with a donkey’s hoof— and succeeded.

In 2001, Gilbert was working on planning for the redevelopment of East Boston’s Maverick Gardens, which included demolition of the 60-year-old buildings. “I got the idea to work with kids there and teach them photography so they could document and memorialize their homes,” she says. She needed a nonprofit organization to be a fiscal agent for the project and connect her to local youth—and that led her to ZUMIX. “Madeleine said ‘yes’ right away,” she adds.

Gilbert eventually joined the ZUMIX board and helped the organization line up financing to buy an abandoned firehouse in East Boston. The renovated building has been a dynamic space for hundreds of young people who have played and experienced music there ever since. Recently, Steczynski reminded Gilbert of a stark reality: In the skyrocketing East Boston market, it’s likely that ZUMIX couldn’t afford to stay if it didn’t own its building. 

Gilbert’s work and her experience with ZUMIX has sparked an ongoing interest in the problem many nonprofits have finding affordable space—in Boston’s increasingly difficult real estate market. That difficulty, she explains, “means that a lot of things I value about cities, such as diversity, including racial and economic diversity, and grassroots civic institutions like ZUMIX, are really threatened.”