Small grants yield big results

Posted: Thursday, October 19, 2000

Sometimes good ideas need money to work. Not a lot of money, just a bit to get off the ground.

About a year ago, Healthy Communities-Healthy People started a program called mini grants to meet such needs on the Kenai Peninsula. The idea was to provide seed money to foster small-scale projects that improve the community.

Organizers declare the program a rousing success.

"Since then, we've given over $7,000 to the community," said Jane Stein, who started the project.

Stein, a member of Healthy Communities, a Soldotna City Council member and president of the Bridges Community Resource Network, learned about the concept at a meeting in California. Students from Oakland talked about how the city there had empowered them to undertake successful community improvement projects through small financial grants.

Their enthusiasm and effectiveness made an impression on Stein, who brought the idea to Healthy Communities.

Healthy Communities is a volunteer network, dedicated to improving public health resources and access on the central peninsula. When it won a grant from the Turning Point Foundation last year, it allocated $8,000 for mini grants.

The first, in the amount of $450, was awarded to Nikiski Middle-Senior High School for a wellness program for the school staff. Since then, 15 more grants have been issued, ranging from $126 to the $500 maximum.

The funding has been used to pay for items such as training for community caregivers, items to put in holiday charity food baskets, safe after-prom activities and printed materials for community health education outreach.

One $500 recipient was the Blood Bank of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula Center in Soldotna.

Center manager Suzie Kendrick said the center is in the process of setting up a new laboratory to process blood on site to increase supplies available for the peninsula next year.

"The mini grant will be instrumental along with other donations," she said. "We were given the grant almost immediately after applying."

When deciding on which applications to approve, the emphasis is on projects that will benefit as many people as possible, Stein said.

Healthy Communities has $1,000 left from the initial grant and so far has lined up $3,000 in new money to continue the grants. The funds are from the Turning Point Foundation, excess funding from previous projects and proceeds raised in March at the Village Health Fair, which Healthy Communities sponsors.

Since Healthy Communities started issuing the grants, other organizations have begun doing so as well.

The Tobacco Control Alliance received funding last year to ramp up its activities after the state's court settlement with cigarette companies. Included in the funding was a mandate to issue mini grants, said Patty Truesdell, who runs the alliance's Soldotna office.

Her group passed out $4,500 in grants to eight recipients over the past year. For the coming year, she has $5,000 available.

"Last year, we had to do it. This year we don't have to, but I want to," she said. "I liked it so much."

The alliance is particularly interested in projects that target prevention and young people, she said.

The funding went to projects throughout the region, including Homer, Valdez and Cordova. They included buying pig lungs for a middle school health class and purchasing brochures about the dangers of smoking. Recipients include teen clubs, the Boys and Girls Club and the Women Infants Children program.

"Most of these are small agencies that are always struggling," Truesdell said. "It can help them take their own grant dollars and spread them a little farther."

The city of Soldotna has started a mini grant program as well, Stein said.

The city council set it up to standardize the way it answers requests from the community, setting up guidelines and asking for proposals. This fiscal year and last the city set aside $10,000.

Most of those grants have been made to student committees working on community service projects, including public murals, signs and a talent show raising funds for a hospital project promoting drug and alcohol recovery, she said.

Stein said mini grants are a successful concept. She hopes Healthy Communities can perpetuate the grant funding and that more and more groups will offer similar grants to foster good ideas at the grass-roots level.

"So many times there are neat programs," she said. "I feel really good about it."

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