Thursday, July 24, 2014 · 7:01 p.m.
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With help from UnFoundation, there are now 25 to 35 new rock climbing routes around Chattanooga. Co-founder Joda Thongnopnua said he is proud that his organization helped contribute something to the city that will be here years from now. (Photo: Contributed)

At the end of December, leaders of UnFoundation will give their 12th grant in a year. 

Because of UnFoundation—its founders, trustees and grant applicants—Chattanooga has a new community garden and dozens of new rock climbing routes; M.L. King Boulevard has a new mural; 45 kids, who wouldn't have otherwise had backpacks and school supplies, didn't go without; a local photographer will have an opportunity to raise awareness about a topic that few discuss; children have been exposed to music and summer camps; and several other local charitable projects have been brought to life. 

Last November, UnFoundation took home the Social Innovator Award at The Company Lab's 48-Hour Launch.

The UnFoundation's mission, projects

To advance the common good in Chattanooga by funding projects and ideas in the arts, education and social development through an accessible grant process and to develop the city's next generation of philanthropists. 

Click here to see a list of the grants. 

November's grant went to the MES Film Club, which will bring films to the area that wouldn't otherwise come here. 

The prize was $17,000 worth of business services from legal and accounting to website design and marketing.

Since the weekend-long business startup event, Joda Thongnopnua and other board members Ben Garrison, Bijan Dhanani and Teal Thibaud have worked with 16 trustees who gave $100 a month to support area charitable projects. 

Co-founders designed the UnFoundation to give 12 monthly grants of about $2,000. And they streamlined the application process. It took more like 15 minutes to apply as opposed to six months. 

"Our stipulations for applying for the grant are that you be in Chattanooga and that your project have a charitable angle to it in some form or another," Thongnopnua said. "Our mission defines the projects we are looking for, but it's broad for a reason. We wanted it to be that way. Some of the most impactful projects have the smallest budgets, and that’s what we’re looking for." 

In April, UnFoundation funded a ukulele camp at the Folk School of Chattanooga.

Christie Burns, executive director of the Folk School of Chattanooga, said UnFoundation's financial support helped allow her organization to pay the musicians and teachers. It also created valuable partnerships and relationships and reinforced the importance of music education, she said. 

And, more broadly, UnFoundation is bringing a new generation of philanthropists to Chattanooga, Burns and Thongnopnua said. 

Being able to touch such a wide range of people and projects has exceeded Garrison's expectations, he said. 

"It's been a really fun and rewarding process," he said. 

The UnFoundation and its trustees funded this mural on M.L. King Boulevard. (Photo: Contributed)

A couple of the projects are still ongoing, but the organization is on track for a 100 percent success rate, Thongnopnua said. 

Next year, leaders may look for different means of funding, but the trustees will stay at the center of it, he also said. 

Everything that has worked and that makes the organization special will remain, he said. 

"You don't really need millions of dollars to do something awesome," Thongnopnua said. "All it really takes is some initiative, and the other big thing is it takes really smart people to do it. I think there's lots of those people around." 

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