Home Depot giving $500 grants
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Project budgets must be modest -- $500 tops.
But officials in Pittsburgh and a handful of other cities are betting that a little money can do a lot to improve neighborhoods, increase civic pride and boost volunteerism.
Pittsburgh joined Atlanta; Baton Rouge, La.; Chula Vista, Calif; and Little Rock, Ark.; as recipients of $10,000 grants from the Home Depot Foundation for Love Your Block, a program that aims to improve neighborhoods one block at a time.
In Pittsburgh, nonprofit groups have until 5 p.m. June 15 to apply for $500 mini-grants, which can be used to remove graffiti, paint, clean up vacant lots and create community gardens.
But those are just a few of the possibilities. Applicants should be creative, and consider how improvements can be sustained long-term, Rebecca Kottler-Wein, the city's chief service officer, said.
At a time when cities nationwide are struggling to make ends meet, many are redoubling efforts to harness the energy and talent of volunteers. The grant recipients are in the vanguard of such efforts as members of "Cities of Service," a coalition of 100 mayors nationwide.
As they wrestle with financial problems, blight and public safety concerns, coalition members are seeking help from longtime community activists and trying to connect with residents who haven't been involved before.
In April, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl launched ServePgh, a package of initiatives that includes Love Your Block. Other initiatives are a youth mentoring effort, a civic leadership academy for teens and a "Snow Angels" programs that pairs volunteers with senior citizens in need of wintertime help.
Applications for Love Your Block are available at www.pittsburghpa.gov/servepgh/loveyourblock. Any block in the city is eligible for the program. Winners will be announced in July.
Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. plans to seek a grant to clean up an area of Hillcrest Street near Fort Pitt PreK-5 in Garfield. In places, the sidewalk is blocked by "overgrowth the size of a small child," Kathryn Vargas, the group's Elm Street program manager, said.
"You couldn't walk on it, which would force a young person to step into the street," she said.
Ms. Vargas said other ideas are to create an outdoor classroom on a vacant lot near the school and to rechalk the football field that's home to the Garfield Gators, a youth football team. In a sense, she said, the grant is just a way to build momentum in the community.
In Chula Vista, officials see the program as an opportunity to pull weeds, pick up litter, remove graffiti and plant community gardens, while getting more people to take responsibility for their neighborhoods. Along the way, some new community leaders might emerge.
"We're also encouraging our young people to consider taking a leadership role in the program in their block and working with the adults," Wanda Bailey, the city's chief service officer, said.
The city wants neighbors get to know each other better, partly to boost crime prevention efforts, Ms. Bailey said.
Love Your Block grew out of a 2009 New York City initiative that gave grants of $1,000 to 12 community groups. The projects mobilized 482 volunteers, who logged 4,193 hours of work.
The program included a friendly competition, and the "winning block" was in Rego Park, Queens, where volunteers cleaned a neglected area beneath a railroad trestle and then planted flowers and painted a mural there. City officials were so pleased that they announced plans to dramatically expand the program.
The Home Depot Foundation got involved to help residents reinvest in their neighborhoods, Katy Elder, senior manager of community affairs, said. The foundation provided the cities with $10,000 in gift cards, which will be distributed in $500 increments to community groups with the winning applications.
Winners don't have to go it alone. Ms. Kottler-Wein said city departments will help with trash collection, tree removal, pothole patching and other services.
The Pittsburgh Joint Collective Bargaining Committee, an umbrella of unions representing city government's blue-collar work force, said it will monitor the projects to make sure bargaining unit members do not lose work reserved for them by contract.
First Published June 6, 2011 12:00 am