William S. & Deborah M. Colwell Fund

Est. 2020 by William S. & Deborah M. Colwell.

The Colwells
Will and Debbie Colwell. Photo provided by the Colwells.

When Will Colwell joined the board of directors of a local private foundation, he needed to do some homework on area nonprofits to assess their grant eligibility and impact. He and his wife Debbie decided they would visit nonprofits all over Greater New Haven together, increasingly learning about the needs in the community and the work being done to improve people’s lives.

“I offered a different insight,” says Debbie, who began volunteering back in 1979 with the Junior League of Greater New Haven and “learned a lot about what the community needed, what volunteer opportunities there were to give back to people who needed it most.”

They found themselves very moved by the stories of women sheltering at Life Haven, a place for female domestic violence survivors and their children. “It really opened my eyes to a part of the world that I had not been very familiar with,” says Will, a principal of the law firm Parrett, Porto, Parese & Colwell, P.C.

The educational program at St. Martin de Porres Academy also caught the Colwell’s attention, prompting them to support the faith-based middle school. The Academy provides tuition-free, extended day education for underserved children from low-income families from the New Haven area; one hundred percent of the students graduate high school and 90 percent attend universities on scholarship.

These initial encounters had a profound effect on the couple, who have been giving and volunteering locally for more than four decades. These early experiences shaped the focus of the couple’s charitable giving. For one thing, they choose to give locally.

“We don’t give money to large national charities,” says Will. “Just to local New Haven charities and the colleges we went to. We would rather be a ‘big fish in a small pond’ to make a bigger impact.” The couple also choose to direct their resources toward education for underserved youth and nonprofits that provide shelter to families.

Will recalls that the Colwell’s love for the community and their desire to make a meaningful impact grew exponentially when he started a seven-year term on The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven’s Board of Directors in 2011, serving as Chair for 2015-16. The experience made him care even more deeply for the Greater New Haven community and the needs of its people, he says. In 2020, the couple used a Qualified Charitable Deduction from their IRA to create a designated fund at The Foundation that will support St. Martin de Porres Academy, New Reach, Clifford Beers Clinic, Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership Inc. (LEAP), EMERGE and other charities.

Their hope, say the Colwells, is to “help the world one child at a time,” and that their children will follow in their footsteps in whatever capacity they can.

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William S. & Deborah M. Colwell Fund