The city council meeting on July 10 was filled with more excitement and anticipation than usual as many members of the public eagerly waited to hear the approval of the recipients of the Rohnert Park Foundation small grants program. After several of the people to be awarded spoke, as well as a staff report reviewed which showed a compilation of the prospective proposals, the city council unanimously voted to approve the recipients and allow the foundation to enter into the grant agreements.
This is the first year that the foundation has been able to distribute the grants, whose money is coming from the Graton Casino mitigation community investment funds – non-guaranteed funds for community investment that is tied to the success of the casino. The idea behind the community small grants program is to give small grants with a maximum of $5,000 to community members and organizations to do community projects. Instead of making initial commitments of larger donations, the Foundation felt that the small grants could spread the funds to smaller groups that do not traditionally seek funding from larger foundations. In addition, the foundation is very explicit in ensuring that organizations do not rely on this money for future funding – it is strictly to be used for specific projects and events that exemplify the city’s vision to “make our community a safe place to live, work and play.” Therefore, individuals and organizations are not allowed to receive funding in consecutive years.
“The small grants program really is remarkable in the sense that it is so broad based that the money can be used to improve Rohnert Park,” said Leonardo Tacata, Senior Analyst for the City of Rohnert Park during the city council meeting. “And so in February this foundation board decided that it was going to spend some of the money now from the MOU casino mitigation funds, and put a framework together for $100,000 to launch this program. This program is going to support projects that will benefit and improve the Rohnert Park community, in the spirit of both the MOU and the City of Rohnert Park Foundation.”
By the May 31 application deadline, 39 applications had been received, with requests totaling $176,143. After careful review and collaboration from a steering committee made up of six city staff representing public safety, public works, administration, community services, animal services and development services, 28 different recipients were chosen to receive the $100,000. All recipients fall under one of three categories; namely “projects,” “services” and “conferences/outreach.”
“What distinguishes projects is that they are really one-time events – one time activities for these organizations,” said Tacata. “It really meets the criteria that no organization should become reliant on these funds. These are activities that will not happen again in the normal every year life of the organization.”
11 projects were chosen, with funding awarded ranging from $1,750 to $5,000. The projects include activities such as creating a mural for the senior center, to building an outdoor tennis table at Richard Crane Elementary School, to conducting rapid trash assessments and clean-up projects along Hinebaugh and Copeland Creeks through Daily Acts Organization.
“The second group is services, and what distinguishes services is that these are activities that these organizations do normally,” said Tacata. “These activities are noteworthy and noble and worth considering for these organizations.”
Some examples of the 10 organizations that received funding in this category include the Animal Shelter League of Rohnert Park creating pet wellness clinics to be held at the Senior Center and the Rancho Verde Mobile Home Park for low/limited income pet owners, the Rohnert Park Health Center expanding the school-based dental program to the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District and the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition offering “Safe Routes to School” events in at least one Rohnert Park elementary school.
Lastly, the “Conferences/Outreach” category awarded money to seven recipients.
“These are set aside because these are conferences, workshops, and outreach programs that are not necessarily targeted to citizens of Rohnert Park – they can invite the broader community in,” said Tacata. “These are for notable conferences held in the City of Rohnert Park. These conferences bring a level of interest to our community and it does fit our vision of Rohnert Park being a safe place to live, work, and play.”
Because the committee did not feel that they could state that one event was better than another, each program received the same amount of funding - $1,400. Some of the programs include a Youth Summit by the Sonoma County Black Forum, to be held at Sonoma State for low-income and underserved middle school and high school students, a One Planet Summit at Credo High School to showcase local conservation habits and sustainability efforts and the SSU Student Veterans Club, which connects military veteran students with Sonoma County veteran-related services.
The 2018 grantees include: The Rotary Club of Rohnert Park-Cotati, Girl Scouts, Council on Aging, Animal Shelter League of Rohnert Park and the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. A community band and a military banner program will receive support. The Scout Hut on Santa Alicia Drive will receive a kitchen and exterior renovation. Several school and university workshops will be supported. The full list of awardees and their programs can be found at www.rpcity.org/SGP.
“I’d like to thank the community for coming out and taking advantage of this,” said Gina Belforte, Rohnert Park Councilmember. “This extremely positive partnership between the Tribe, the city and our non-profits ultimately fulfill our strategic plan of building a vibrant community.”
The Community Voice congratulates all of the recipients in their noble efforts to improve and enhance Rohnert Park and will be highlighting many of the organizations in the Magnified section of upcoming issues.