Midtown: Community

Midtown Muse: Grants help spark community change

Andrew Fernandes practices his skills at the mobile skate park organized by Neighbor to Neighbor. A grant from Voices into Action helped pay for the project.
Andrew Fernandes practices his skills at the mobile skate park organized by Neighbor to Neighbor. A grant from Voices into Action helped pay for the project. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Know what? There’s a new skate park in Midtown. Hands-on learning gardens also have been created. A health care agency’s community garden has more fruits and vegetables. And a church has exercise equipment, a fitness instructor and free workouts.

And since we all want – and need – more access to healthy, affordable food and places to exercise and play, now’s the time to bid for mini-grants up to $2,000 from Voices into Action: The Families, Food, and Health Project.

Voices into Action is a USDA-funded initiative of N.C. State, N.C. A&T State and the N.C. Cooperative Extension to increase access to affordable healthy food and places to exercise in Southeast Raleigh and other areas deemed a food desert.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31. You can find the 2015 Southeast Raleigh Mini-Grant information packet and application at www.voicesintoaction.org/projects.

It’s been six months since Voices into Action awarded 10 mini-grants in Southeast Raleigh. In all, 16 individuals, schools, faith communities and organizations applied earlier this year for grants to implement solutions to Southeast Raleigh’s food desert status, which took center stage when Kroger closed two stores in January 2012 and left many in the area without a grocery store within a mile of home.

The mini-grants range from $100 to $2,000 for creative projects that fill the void and provide improved access to healthy, affordable foods, or places to be active. Proposals are welcomed from everybody, including schools, day care centers, faith communities, convenience stores, farm stands, farmers markets, neighborhood organizations, civic groups or nonprofits.

Project ideas could include starting a community garden, providing nutrition education classes or improving local food pantries.

“We definitely encourage people to apply who have no grant-writing experience,” said Marissa Sheldon, the Community Outreach Coordinator for Voices into Action. “We will walk them through the process, which is straight-forward and informal, to ease any concerns or doubts.”

Voices into Action also works in western Harnett and Lee counties, also defined as food deserts, or places that lack access to healthy foods. Each county gets about $10,000 in mini-grant funding.

In this round of funding, all three counties are applying simultaneously, Sheldon said. Currently, Lee County has seven mini-grant projects and is applying for its second round of funding. Harnett County has five current projects and is entering its third round of funding requests.

“Everything has been going really well,” Sheldon said. “In Southeast Raleigh, projects are sticking to their plans and everyone is getting things accomplished they’ve wanted to get done.”

Some, Sheldon added, are excited about applying for more grant money.

“They want to continue their projects and build on what they already started,” she said.

On Nov. 7, Voices into Action will complete its six-month site visits to each project.

With its money, the health education Poe Center created hands-on learning gardens in its PlayWELL Park. The garden’s harvest not only connects to the organization’s nutrition education program. It’s also available for community visitors to pick from and for donations to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Plant a Row for the Hungry program, said Maggie Perkins, the center’s senior nutrition health educator.

Neighbor to Neighbor on Blount Street now entertains skateboarders with a safe place to skate, socialize and connect to everything else the organization has to offer.

“We were just listening to some of our young people who are skaters, and embraced the whole culture of skating as physical activity, so we can provide a good place for them to connect in other ways, too,” Executive Director Royce Hathcock said.

More than 100 skaters showed up for the opening of the mobile skate park set up on the basketball court each day.

“It’s literally, ‘You build it, and they come,’ ” Hathcock said.