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Sarasota Sunday, Jun. 11, 2017 2 years ago

County grants give neighborhoods opportunity for improvement

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Groups of residents can apply for up to $10,000 to improve aspects of their community on the county's dime.
by: Cassidy Alexander Staff Writer

It’s that time of year again — when residents generate an idea to better their community, rally together a group of volunteers and submit applications for a Neighborhood Initiative Grant.

In case you didn’t know that June is application month, don’t worry. There’s still a window of time to attend a workshop and submit your application for one of the grants. This county-run program offers matching funds of up to $10,000 to groups (neighbors, homeowners associations, etc.) proposing projects to improve their communities.

Projects can range from a new sign at the front of a neighborhood, to environmental protection or disaster preparedness, to ways to showcase a community’s history.

“We have a lot of projects that are landscaping- or environment-based projects,” Neighborhood Services Manager Jane Grogg said. “They’re also hopefully working together, getting to know each other.”

But the parameters for what can be done with the grant are wide, as evidenced by the things Vickie Oldham has done with funding from the program.

After working on a project for the city of Sarasota to formally organize and document the history of the Newtown community, she wanted to take the information to the next level. Through funding from a Neighborhood Initiative Grant, Oldham was able to create a website to showcase the information she gathered.

“This is how you transform communities,” Oldham said. “Why not a website? Why can’t we share the evolution of our community that people can access everywhere in the world?”

After receiving funding for the project in 2015, newtownalive.org was born to educate people about the area.

Not ready to stop there, Oldham applied for a grant the next year and received another to put on trolley tours and give riders an oral history of the community and its historical markers, led by local volunteers.

While Oldham’s projects are outside the box of what is typically proposed in the Neighborhood Initiative Grant Program, they meet the criteria set by the program’s five themes: character, leadership, safety, environment and health.

“I think it’s necessary that neighbors come together for specific causes,” Oldham said, even if that cause is as simple as adding streetlights to a dim part of town, or removing an invasive species of plant from an area.

The application process for a grant, which happens twice a year, takes seven months, and starts with attending a Neighborhood Grant Workshop to learn how to apply. The June 19 workshop is mandatory. After that, the deadline to submit intent to apply is July 10.

As part of the process, applicants must research and show how they’re going to raise matching funds for the amount they receive from the county, whether through actual dollars or volunteer hours.

Trolley tours of Newtown was a project that received funding from the Neighborhood Initiative Grant Program last year, to showcase the community's history.

Grogg said since the program began in 2002, 340 grants have been distributed, amounting to more than $1.8 million. In the previous fiscal year, $99,000 was available. The County Commission will consider allocating the same funding for the next fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.

At the June 7 County Commission meeting, funding was approved for nine of 12 applicants from the previous cycle, amounting to more than $60,000.

Oldham recommends that everyone apply for a grant, and not to get discouraged by the possible dollar amount.

“Don’t look at it as small potatoes,” she said. “It can definitely be leveraged.”

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