Practicing Personal Philanthropy

Catharine and Philip GuilesCatharine Guiles sits in her living room on the crown of Gloucester Hill, the highest point in Cumberland County. A former science editor and avid gardener, with a special interest in ferns, this woman's soft, plainspoken directness comes right out of Our Town--and with some reason. Guiles' uncle, Thornton Wilder, wrote the play.

Having received a portion of his estate, and combining it with another legacy, Guiles decided she would like to devote some of these resources to assisting adults struggling with mental health issues.

Trusted friends recommended the Maine Community Foundation; her financial advisor confirmed the suggestion, so in 1999 Guiles created the CWG Fund and the CWG Scholarship Fund, using her initials to identify them.

She also has a bequest to the foundation in her estate. Guiles says she has found the arrangements to be "just perfect," adding, "I tell staff members at MaineCF that it seems as if they're working for me 24 hours a day."

Sometimes it might seem as if Guiles, too, is working 24/7 for her funds. A hands-on donor, she makes a point of getting to know the individuals and the organizations she supports, along with the needs their clients might have.

Guiles often initiates the contact, whether with Community Health and Counseling in Bangor or Counseling Services, Inc., in Saco. The CWG Fund focuses on mental health needs that are not underwritten by state or federal money.

Mental health organizations, Guiles says, "are all in a very difficult fiscal situation. Government has been cutting back on funding, and mental illness is not something people want to think about."

Guiles has funded field trips for participants in Portland-based Elderworks, one of the Community Counseling Center's geriatric programs. She has also assisted a creative writing seminar at the Portland Coalition for the Psychiatrically Labeled, has given program support to NAMI Maine (formerly the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Maine), and has also assisted the Rural Community Action Ministry, in Leeds, making it possible to solve, for example, housing and transportation issues.

Other CWG beneficiaries include clubs for people with mental illnesses, such as Amistad, in Portland, and the 100 Pine Street Center of the Common Ties Mental Health Coalition in Lewiston. Through a special fund at Counseling Services, Inc., Guiles paid for a quiet weekend away for an overtired single mother of several small children.

The CWG Scholarship Fund offers scholarships to Maine residents pursuing graduate programs in social work, counseling and psychiatric nursing. Although recipients don't have to attend a Maine institution, Guiles does hope they'll return to Maine to work.

"My family was not wealthy," Guiles says. Her late father was a noted academic in the field of New Testament studies; her mother taught history at the secondary-school level until the birth of her second child.

The family's early decades were not easy, but still, philanthropy was important. Her parents strongly supported their colleges; and, when it became possible, her mother, recognizing how important travel and study abroad were in her own early life, set up a fund to offer travel scholarships to students at her alma mater.

Today, Guiles and her husband Philip give away a substantial portion of their income to philanthropic causes. Phil Guiles only recently stepped down from a 15-year tenure on the board of Opportunity Farm for Boys and Girls, a residential facility in New Gloucester offering children from dysfunctional backgrounds a stable structure along with needed counseling (he was the board's chair from 1994 to 1996).

When Catharine Guiles thinks of giving, though, the word "receiving" quickly comes to mind. "I have enjoyed and learned from the interesting and committed people I have met though my philanthropic work and through my connection with the Maine Community Foundation," she says. "Some have become true friends."