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13 groups seeking $82K-plus in city grants

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Bettie Parker

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thirteen nonprofits have asked Elizabeth City City Council for more than $82,000 in taxpayer dollars, which is nearly three times the amount the city has set aside in grant funds.

City Council considered requests Monday totaling $82,591 for this year's Community Support Grant Program. The program, which has $28,000 in funding, is intended to help vulnerable populations and provide youth enrichment.

Councilors couldn't agree on Mayor Bettie Parker's proposal to give each organization at least 25 percent of their request, and so voted to debate the applications further in their next finance committee meeting on Oct. 18.

Several organizations sought $10,000 or more. River City Community Development Corp. asked for the most total funding, asking $5,000 to buy building materials to repair housing for the low-income and the elderly, plus $7,500 for operational expenses. During applicants' presentations to councilors last week, River City CDC YouthBuild Program Manager Angie Wills said the organization serves seven counties and the $7,500 grant would cover expenses other grants won't, citing insurance, transportation, and housing counseling as examples. River City CDC received only $6,500 from the CSG Program last year.

Other applicants include:

* The Elizabeth City State University Foundation, which asked for $10,000 to help establish an on-campus food pantry for low-income students. Representing ECSU, Russ Haddad conceded the request was too high and said the program was still in its early stages.

* Kids First, which asked $10,000. Kids First is a nationally accredited counseling and therapy service for abused children; it also works closely with law enforcement in child abuse cases. Director Rhonda Morris said last week the organization has lost funding, prompting it to ask for $2,500 more than it got last year.

* iEmpower, which asked for $9,297. The organization, formed only two months ago by sisters Ashley Mitchell and Tameka McElveen, is for a “youth leadership conference” to be held next July for students in grades five to 10. They proposed the grant would cover costs of renting a facility — although iEmpower indicated it hasn't secured one yet — plus food and supplies. The event would be offered to youth for free, Mitchell and McElveen reported.

* Dream Hunt and Fish Foundation, which asked for $8,800. Director Terry Boyce explained the organization, now 18 years old, provides hunting and fishing trips to terminally ill children, runs at-risk youth camps at Camp Cale, and provides a popular wildlife trailer for schools and community events.

* River City Community Sailing, which asked for $7,800. Group co-founder and President Carol Terryberry said the grant would buy two boats to support its youth sailing classes. She said sailing teaches children a love of the water, as well as “grit” and focus.

* Boys & Girls Club of Elizabeth City, which asked for $5,000 toward its annual utility bills. The club proposed covering those bills to free up money for the estimated 180 kids it serves annually with after-school programs. The CSG Program provided the club only $4,000 last year.

* Eastern Women's Entrepreneurship Center, which asked for $5,000. Director Caitlin Davis proposed using the money toward training programs for entrepreneurs and nonprofit or civic organizations.

* Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, which asked for $3,594. According to its application, Good Shepherd has supported HL Trigg, an alternative school, and found it has no music program for students. The church reported the grant its seeking would cover half the cost of providing biweekly music courses to Trigg students, and that the classes are hoped to improve students' behavior and academic performance.

* NC Blazers, which asked for $3,000. The Blazers are a youth basketball team, and they asked for money to cover the costs of sending teams to a national tournament. The city’s grant program has awarded the group $3,000 in prior years.

* SOULS Feeding Program, which asked for $3,000 toward its city utility bills. SOULS is a partnership of local churches that provide free meals nightly to those in need. Council gave it $3,000 last year.

* The Albemarle Family YMCA, which asked for $3,000 for swim safety courses. YMCA Board Chairman Curtis Wrenn said the classes teach basic swimming to hundreds of kindergartners annually. That is a life-saving skill not taught by other local groups, he said. The city grant program gave the YMCA $1,500 last year.

* Healthy Carolinians of the Albemarle, which asked for $1,600. Healthy Carolinians is a group that works with Albemarle Regional Health Services and Elizabeth City Parks and Recreation to promote exercise. The request asks for funds to cover a fitness instructor's courses, advertising and other expenses. It received $500 last year.

During Monday's meeting, Parker explained she saw merit in providing all the organizations some funding. She proposed awarding each organization at least 25 percent of its request, or a total of $20,648. That would leave more than $7,000 to boost the final grants for any organizations councilors felt were more deserving.

Several councilors questioned that approach, however. Councilor Jeannie Young noted council had set priorities on the kinds of programs it funds. Alluding to iEmpower's application, she noted one group was new and it wasn't clear if they could move forward with only partial funding.

Councilor Johnnie Walton also argued certain groups are higher priorities than others. Kids First is a “Tier One,” top-priority group, he argued, while applications from Healthy Carolinians, River City CDC, and the sailing club are lower priorities. For River City, he specifically expressed concerns about funding routine operating costs.

Regarding the sailing club, City Manager Rich Olson noted council recommended providing it no funding, but buying the boats with tourism dollars. That means the city would own the boats but the sailing club could use them.

Walton also expressed concerns about funding Good Shepherd's application, warning that funding one church's request might prompt many others to apply.

Councilor Billy Caudle also argued that organizations the city has long supported, such as the Boys & Girls Club, have come to rely on that support. He argued the city shouldn't reduce funding for proven organizations, an approach he noted would leave some money for new applicants.

After more than 30 minutes' discussion, Councilor Anita Hummer recommended councilors refer the matter to council's next finance committee meeting on Oct. 18. Other councilors approved the motion unanimously.

Notably, the city's application for Community Support Grants lists the following priorities for funding: arts and cultural activities (including performing arts), scientific literacy and exploration, basic needs (such as food and clothing), housing and shelter, health and medical treatment, and recreation and sports activities.

In an interview Tuesday, Olson said he doesn’t plan to recommend for or against funding any organizations, noting that's a political decision for councilors.

However, city staff have scored applications based on grant criteria, how feasible their proposals are, and other factors. The lowest scoring applications were: the NC Blazers, who provided no supporting documentation; iEmpower, who did not identify other funding sources and, as a new organization, lacks audited financials; and River City Community Sailing, who was missing documentation and hadn't identified funding sources.

The highest scoring applications were Kids First, followed by the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club.

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