Neighborhood Fund: Impact Beyond the Grant
-Lesley Grady, senior vice president, Community Partnerships
For more than 20 years The Community Foundation has had the honor of being invited into the living rooms of hundreds of the region's residents – personal spaces few institutions are privileged to visit. We've had this honor because of the Neighborhood Fund, our small grants program that awards anywhere from $250 to $10,000 to neighborhood associations, civic groups, PTAs, and other small, mostly unincorporated community-based 501C.3 groups; and site visits occur in parks, coffee shops and recreational centers – and not uncommonly around the dining room table of a passionate community leader.
Buildings on the assets present in all communities – regardless of appearance or statistics – five or more residents come together to apply for Neighborhood Fund grants to benefit their community. Their proposals are diverse and ingenuous, including summer and after-school activity for youth; walking clubs for the elderly; multicultural fairs; training classes; physical and infrastructure planning; newsletters; creek testing and cleanup; and playgrounds. Perennial favorites are safety patrols and community gardens.
My favorite story is of the lively ladies of a senior citizen complex (their "hood") who in 1997, wary of crossing busy Roswell Road, sought $3,000 to buy equipment for an on-site beauty salon. They secured free space from the landlord (Fulton County government) and commitment from a beautician who agreed to come twice weekly. Over time, the "Beauty Shop" flourished, even expanding to include snacks. When the county closed the facility in 2007, The Community Foundation received a check for $1,400 – the balance left in their account!
These grants aren't about money. They are about integrity. Ingenuity. Dignity. Self determination. Faith in others and belief in possibility.
Every Neighborhood Fund grant also includes ongoing assistance in the form of a Community Coach, who is individually matched with the grantee. Community Coaches have broad and diverse skills – ranging from marketing, fundraising, volunteer and event management and more – and are recruited and compensated to aid the grantees and act as a liaison to the Foundation. Sometimes grantees need a lot of help to manage their work; others need less.
The Coach is an integral component of the Neighborhood Fund's community building strategy and we count on them for the Fund's success for successful grantee/coach matches lead to successful projects. Certainly, it’s important that the neighborhood groups have the freedom to determine what they need from their coach. Equally as important, however, is that the Coaches have the skills and understanding to meet groups' needs. Coaches have to be sure that the assistance they offer is solid. They must understand when and how to encourage and when and how to respectfully push this group of volunteer community leaders to ensure progress. They must intuit when and what to report to us while balancing the important bond they have created with their groups.
They are essential. They help to ensure the ROI of the grant, far exceeding its monetary value. They stand in the gap between us, "the establishment" and residents, "the people".
And we all cross over.
Since 1991 the Neighborhood Fund has awarded in excess of $2 million to more than 300 groups. You can find more information on the Fund at http://www.cfgreateratlanta.org/Community-Initiatives/Current-Initiatives/Neighborhood-Fund.aspx.