More than 300 Mainers attended the annual Maine Community Foundation’s annual Inspiring Philanthropy night, with author Monica Wood as keynote speaker being a major draw.

Joshua Bodwell, executive director of Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, introduced Wood, author of the novel “Ernie’s Ark,” the play “Papermaker,” and “When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine.”

“As a Maine boy who has long been inspired by Monica’s writing, it’s hard to play it cool,” Bodwell said.

Wood’s storytelling is always firmly rooted in place, and the story she told Maine Community Foundation, aka MaineCF, supporters was about her work at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. There, she led a series of workshops in which female inmates read books by female Maine writers, talked ideas with those authors, and opened up emotionally and intellectually through their own writing.

“These women were all separated from and cut off from their communities,” Wood said. They were both young and old; some with no education, some with master’s degrees; and with jail sentences of 14 months all the way up to life in prison. But as writers, Wood said, they developed a “sisterly cohesive,” a community.

Place – or community – is a major focus not only of Wood’s writing but of MaineCF in its philanthropic efforts statewide. Fourteen of Maine’s 16 counties have a county fund, and more than 120 volunteers statewide serve as county fund advisers.

“These advisers know their local communities and can help us select grants,” said Carl Little, director of communications and marketing for MaineCF.

Kirsten Lindquist, a Knox County Fund adviser from Camden, was moved by stories of how an MCF grant helped prevent recurring homelessness.

“We’re not just helping these organizations; we’re helping actual individual people improve their lives,” Lindquist said. “It’s especially meaningful to me because it’s my hometown.”

“This organization is very focused on place and community,” said Kathy Smith, a Cumberland County Fund adviser from Freeport. “It’s building community by giving some very strategic grants that can be catalysts.”

“We’re big believers in Maine Community Foundation,” said Susan Morris, a real estate developer based in Portland. “It’s an integral part of our quality of life here in Maine. … I find it very forward-thinking.”

“Maine Community Foundation has strong financial assets, strong human assets, and strong reputational assets,” said Steven Rowe, the new president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit. “But there’s even more potential … to improve the quality of life for all Maine people.”

MaineCF distributed $24 million in grants and endowments last year. Community needs are matched with donors’ interests and passions. In fact, MaineCF donors chose to pay for the books inmates read as part of the program Wood led at the jail.

“These events really showcase some of the things the organization does,” said Ken Spirer, a finance committee member from Portland. “I could talk about the foundation all night, because I love it.”

Amy Paradysz is a writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]