The City of Grand Rapids’ Neighborhood Match Fund (NMF) is providing focused support for community projects that help Grand Rapids’ most vulnerable residents meet their basic needs for resiliency, wellness, and safety in light of COVID-19.
The NMF program recognizes and lifts up local resident leaders and neighbors who are already doing what they can for their neighborhoods with their own limited resources. In addressing the current crisis, looking to these neighbors for direction was a logical next step.
“The theme of the Neighborhood Match Fund awardees is that community solutions are within the wisdom and experience of the community. Community takes care of each other, neighbors helping neighbors,” says Stacy Stout, assistant to the city manager, Office of Equity and Engagement. “When we think about resiliency for residents, for neighborhoods during this time, who better to know what the needs are — and come up with creative solutions — than those experiencing [the impacts].”
In 2019, NMF grants financed a variety of projects including youth outreach, education, neighborhood cultural festivals, and, one of Stout’s favorites, the Black Book Exchange Box, a local take on the little free library movement.
“These were built locally by the [Grand Rapids] Center for Community Transformation and painted by local artists of color,” she says. “It was a whole community approach to making sure communities have books — books that reflect who they are. This was a beautiful project on so many levels.”
The current initiative supports projects that build community with a focus on COVID-19 resiliency and recovery in non-contact ways. Projects must align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 recommendations as well as local, state, and federal executive orders in place at the time of the project.
“In the past, a lot of the neighborhood match fund projects brought people together physically. In these times of social distancing, that might not be possible,” Stout says. “We have all these resident leaders in the community who have been doing important work for years. How do we invest in them on the ground to get strategies in place at the local level really quickly and give residents what they need?”
The submission process is designed to be easy and attainable by lay people without grant-writing experience. Proposals, which are due April 19, need only submit a project idea.
“We try to take away as many barriers as possible. The project doesn’t have to be planned out … We will meet with the person or group and help plan out the details with them and support their creativity,” she says. “We are looking for ideas that will meet basic needs for Grand Rapids residents who, due to structural inequities, are most vulnerable to exposure and/or negative economic impact related to the pandemic.”
While past NMF awards were capped at $2,500, the next two rounds will award $2,000 to $10,000, depending on the scope of work. A second round of awards will fund projects submitted in June and completed between September 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021. A Grand Rapids resident must lead or co-lead all funded projects.
“Leveraging the creativity of the community, how do we build community in creative, non-contact ways — might take more resources. We definitely wanted to increase the dollar amount,” Stout says. “The NMF is about community solutions and community leadership. We need that more than ever and we need it in creative ways,”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids Neighborhood Match Fund