A Challenge Like No Other

The largest gifts in Sidwell Friends history are setting the stage for a community fundraising challenge this fall. 

In June, while students of all divisions celebrated being together at the end of a challenging year, two Sidwell Friends donors quietly gave the School a new reason to cheer. 

Together, they set a new standard for philanthropy: These two generous friends, who wish to remain anonymous, each contributed $10 million in support of the Upper School renovation project. The largest gifts in the School’s 138-year history, these funds will move Sidwell Friends significantly closer to completing the Strategic Action Plan—transforming the Upton Street building into an inspiring new Upper School, and paving the way for unifying our campuses and bringing the Lower School back to the District. 

“I’m truly moved by the generosity of these donors and their confidence in Sidwell Friends,” said Head of School Bryan Garman. “They recognize that we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve the educational experience of our students and to strengthen the School for generations to come.”

In witnessing the extraordinary ways that faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends contributed time, talents, and resources this year, the donors recognized that the Sidwell Friends community can generate extraordinary results when working together. They envisioned their generosity becoming the foundations for a philanthropic challenge for the entire School community. 

“These gifts are an investment of hope, of confidence, and of vision for Sidwell Friends, now and in the future,” one donor explained. “We are eager to welcome others to join us in this critical time in our School’s history and help to generate another $20 million to advance this needed transformation.”

And with that, The Sidwell Friends Challenge was created. 

The Sidwell Friends Challenge is a one-to-one fundraising effort calling upon community members to step forward and contribute to match the unprecedented generosity of the two Challenge donors. The goal of the challenge is to raise an additional $20 million pledged for the renovation by early 2022.

When the Challenge successfully concludes, the gifts from the two Challenge donors and every community member who contributes to the Challenge will have raised $40 million of the $60-70 million that Upton Street property renovation will require. The renovation will bring to life a vision that the School was excited to share in the Spring 2020 issue of Sidwell Friends Magazine article “School of Thought.” Each detail of the design has been carefully considered to deepen students’ intellectual, social, and spiritual growth during their formative years—from the learning and science garden designed to foster daily connections to nature and the outdoors, to the science center and robotics suite that will promote collaborative design and research, to quiet nooks that will enable quiet reflection. It also extends the School’s legacy of environmental stewardship and Quaker design, and builds on the foundation of sustainability established during the School’s last green facilities campaign. 

“We are proud of the Upper School design, which reflects the collective wishes of students, faculty, and parent focus groups,” Garman said. 

In addition to the new Upper School, the building will house community meeting spaces, like the larger and more welcoming Fox Den, dining commons, library learning commons, and two centers—the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and the Center for Ethical Leadership (CEL)—designed to foster academic excellence and ethical civic engagement across the divisions. 

Depending on the success of meeting fundraising goals, renovations are slated to begin in 2024 and the Upper School opening is scheduled for the 2026/27 academic year. 

“We invested in this challenge now because we know that now is the time for instrumental change at Sidwell Friends,” one of the lead Challenge donors said. “The infusion of support from this community will jumpstart the construction timetable, yet the impact of these gifts will go much further than the walls of our campus. The generosity that Sidwell Friends community members show today will touch every student, parent, alum and parent of alumni, and friend—not  to mention community partners.” 

The goals have been set, the challenge has been made, and for the Challenge donors, one question remains: “Will you join us in this transformative venture?”

To learn more about participating in this challenge, contact Tara Arras, assistant head of school for advancement, at arrast@sidwell.edu

For a closer look at the motivation behind The Sidwell Friends Challenge, look for the article about these historic gifts in the next Report on Philanthropy (October 2021). 


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