Above: a student working at the Believe & Achieve Learning Hub in Spring Hill.
Sometimes, a little bit of funding can go a long way.
For those who live or work on the Northside, $1,000 is available to create projects that empower their communities and increase their quality of life.
Many of the programs this year had to rework their original projects to adhere to Covid-19 restrictions, but were able to overcome the challenges and meet the needs of both adult and youth residents. We talked to three current mini-grantees about how they adapted their projects and the importance of community during uncertain times.
Have an idea to better your community? The next deadline to apply for a mini-grant is November 20, 2020.
Gardening started as something to do with her children, and after successfully growing 30 varieties of produce and teaching other youth in the neighborhood to grow their own food, Ebony Lundsford-Evans developed the nonprofit 1sound for the continuation of providing thriving skills to communities.
This year she applied for a One Northside Mini-Grant to host youth and adult programming around how to successfully grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs, but had to change direction due to Covid-19.
“I was stuck on what to do and then one of the senior citizens I had been working with in this program reached out to me during the pandemic,” Lundsford-Evans said.
The individual was unable to access fresh food without putting themselves at risk by getting on a bus to go to the grocery store, so Lundsford-Evans decided to use her mini-grant to buy the supplies needed to build a raised garden bed outside of the Northside seniors home. After that, someone else asks Lundsford-Evans for help building raised beds outside of her church, which led to another community member walking up to Lunsford-Evans and asking how to garden.
“And that’s how it grew into 10 families,” Lunsford-Evans. “I had to put a cap on it.”
She said the ONS Mini-Grant has been “really great” in giving her the opportunity to educate first time gardeners and for others to learn about her nonprofit; she is currently looking for funding to expand the program and help people in other communities learn how to grow their food.
Her advice to gardeners?
“First and foremost, share anything that you learn with other growers,” Lunsford-Evans said. “Also, if you make a mistake don’t let that be so discouraging. You can sometimes throw seeds in the ground and grow a whole lot of something, but sometimes you put a lot of work into something and get nothing. Don’t let that defeat you; use it as a tool to keep going because eventually if you keep going, you’ll keep growing.”
PREP – Theodora Cotten
Being a certified reading specialist with a doctorates degree, Theodora Cotten is highly aware of the impact Covid-19 is having on children, especially those in kindergarten and first grade.
“My experience with [this age group] is when they miss out at the beginning, they have a hard time catching up later on,” Cotten said. “I like to see them get a firm foundation right at the beginning so they do well as they go through school.”
To ensure young students are getting enough interactive reading material, Cotten applied for a One Northside Mini-Grant to purchase a one year subscription of Highlights High Five Magazine for 25 children ages 5 and 6 years old. She said her project, PREP, “encourages and empowers parents to help their children with literacy.”
The colorful magazine includes stories, puzzles, cartoons and hidden pictures that aim to get children excited about reading, and because Cotten is purchasing so many subscriptions with the grant, Highlights is able to give her a discount allowing her to reach more students.
During her career, Cotten has made a point to give books to preschoolers and newborn babies, once passing books out at Allegheny General and McGee-Womens Hospital in the maternity ward. She strongly advises parents to begin reading to their children at birth, because regardless of the baby not being able to understand what the parent is saying, “the baby learns speech from [the parent] and the baby will learn to like reading if [the parents] do.”
“This time I’m giving out books because [children] aren’t getting the firm foundation they normally get when they go to school and I don’t want any child to fall behind if I can help it,” Cotten said.
Believe & Achieve Learning Hub – Stephen Weiss
Stephen Weiss, executive director at His Place, is no stranger to One Northside Mini-Grants. His organization has been able to utilize the opportunity for a handful of projects over the years like the implementation of their Peace Room, which is a dedicated space for students to decompress and learn different strategies of social emotional regulation. Or the Comic Book Shop, an after school reading program to enhance student literacy.
“It’s a fairly small investment in terms of grants, but it’s still able to have a really profound impact,” Weiss said.
This year, Weiss applied for a mini-grant to create the Believe & Achieve Learning Hub in Spring Hill where 10 elementary and middle school students are able to safely and virtually attend class during the weekdays with Weiss and His Place Data Analyst Melanie Sandoval standing by for support. When the kids get breaks between their class assignments, Weiss and Sandoval hold “multiplication ninja’s” and test the kids for fact fluency. Once they’ve mastered a different fact family they get a ninja belt, which is “surprisingly motivating,” Weiss said.
The learning hub builds off of the organization’s after school and summer programs, which some of the students have been attending for almost nine years.
“We wanted to be able to support them as much as possible with their school work, but also with the educational priorities we have set for kids,” Weiss said. “We have 12 different key outcomes for the kids in that program based on the data for what kind of academic, social, and emotional metrics coordinate with students succeeding later in life, especially students who are underserved.”
Alternations needed to be done to the space before allowing children in the hub, like purchasing individual desks and adding ventilation, but the mini-grant was used to help cover supplies for the students like headphones and the addition of a second interest line and boosters to keep all the kids online. Weiss said the learning hub has a capacity of 25 students, which they hope to reach once they have sufficient and stable internet connections.
“From the administrative side, it’s relief to know we have a little cash to help cover the expected and unexpected expenses,” Weiss said.
New Sun Rising’s One Northside Mini-Grant Program is made possible through support by The Buhl Foundation.