Why do we use the mini-grant model?

Why do we use the mini-grant model?

By Kelsey Sanders, MPH, CHES
Community Relations Manager, Wholespire

Depending on how long you’ve been keeping up with Wholespire, you may be aware that we award mini-grants to community coalitions and organizations periodically. Our application process is competitive, meaning we weigh various health outcomes, population, and demographic data to help determine the most need. However, what you may not know is why we offer mini-grants, rather than large chunks of money. In this post, we’ll explain the history of our mini-grants and the reason we use this model.

What is the Mini-Grant Model?

Mini-grants are grant awards that are relatively small amounts of money and typically have short implementation periods.

Since 2018, Wholespire has been offering mini-grants of up to $5,000 to community coalitions, schools, local government, faith-based groups, and other non-profit organizations. These mini-grants can be used to implement a policy, systems, or environmental change that addresses healthy eating and/or active living. To date, 45 mini-grants have been awarded for projects like:

  • Add signage to an existing walking loop,
  • Add fitness stations to parks,
  • Create community gardens,
  • Include bilingual signage at farmers’ markets, and
  • Start new HYPE teams to lead civic action projects similar to the ones just listed.

Why Wholespire Adopted the Mini-Grant Model

Before 2018, Wholespire awarded large grants with a longer implementation period to help a small number of communities work on multiple improvement projects. Our hope was there would be a greater health impact. But that didn’t happen with all of the communities we funded.

Some communities experienced challenges, while others didn’t. Receiving a large amount of money can be overwhelming. It isn’t always easy to choose how to spend the money and what areas to tackle first. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach a consensus, while other times, you get so bogged down in a couple of strategies that the other strategies and the money get lost.

After evaluating these instances, Wholespire noticed that even when coalitions have large amounts of grant funding, they tend to spend their money in smaller increments like $5-$10,000 rather than spending large amounts of money at one time. We concluded that change needed to happen. We needed to look internally and adopt a different approach to grantmaking. So, we began using the mini-grant model to help grantees manage their awards better.

Successes Related to the Mini-Grant Model

We found that the smaller mini-grant investments led to a domino effect of momentum in communities. Oftentimes, the mini-grants led to investments by community partners as well as in-kind donations. Adopting this model meant we would be able to give more coalitions and organizations the opportunity to apply for these small grants.

In addition to being able to reach more coalitions, it gives community coalitions and organizations a chance to implement a project without the burden of managing large amounts of funding or committing to a long period of time. Coalitions can organize and work on community action plans without the time constraints of a grant and then apply for a mini-grant when they are ready to carry out their plan of action.

Our experiences have shown that many community coalitions and organizations are looking for a few hundred dollars to complete a project that fits our mission, while others need seed money to get a project moving. Wholespire provides funding opportunities, when available, for not only these reasons but ultimately to reduce health disparities, improve health equity, and increase access to healthy choices.

Are you interested in learning more about our funding opportunities? Visit the Community Action page on our website or contact us.

Parks and Recreation: Lone Hampton County Park is getting some overdue attention

Parks and Recreation: Lone Hampton County Park is getting some overdue attention

Hampton County Recreation Park

Recreation Park in Hampton County

Every county has a parks and recreation department that’s responsible for community activity programs and maintaining and ensuring the safety of its parks. But, sometimes, the playground equipment in parks unintentionally gets overlooked and becomes unsafe for children and families.

Hampton County has only one park under its name, and it’s located next door to the parks and recreation gymnasium and offices in the small town of Varnville. Recreation Park has been there for decades and it probably once hosted tons of kids and families over the years. As kids’ play choices changed, so has the foot traffic at Recreation Park. In addition, the decline in local economies has made parks and playgrounds less of a priority for rural areas of the state like Hampton County.

“Some of the equipment is probably more than 30 years old,” said Tania Peeples, Hampton County Parks and Recreation director. “The teeter-totter is wood, so it’s old. The bouncers and merry-go-round, I played on those as a child. The swing set has chains, but no seats.”

Hampton County Recreation Park bouncers

New bouncers were installed with the help of the Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant.

The department has changed leadership a few times, but each person had visions of bringing the park back to life and making their community healthier. They applied for a Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant to bring in some new playground equipment, and Wholespire was happy to give them a boost.

“Our small towns are treasures and truly deserve some help, especially those located in the I-95 corridor,” said Meg Stanley, Wholespire executive director. “Providing children and families a safe place to play is a basic community amenity that helps everyone grow healthy.”

Mini-grant funding was used to:

  • Replace the tire swing.
  • Replace missing seats and broken chains on the swing set.
  • Add new equipment like a double seat bouncer, truck bouncer, pearl twirl, and teeter-totter bouncer.

Peeples said, “The community loves it. The kids love it. We do have quite

Hampton County Recreation Park teeter-totter

A new teeter-totter in Recreation Park

a few people who come out and play. We still have a lot of work to do out there but the new playground equipment really brightened it up.”

The new playground equipment has spurred excitement for Peeples. “I would like to remove the plastic ring around the swing set, clean it out, and plant sod. I would love to add some picnic shelters with tables in an empty area. Of course, I’d like to see a paved walking trail around the park, replace some benches, and add an accessible swing.”

Did we mention Recreation Park has a nature trail? Under Peeples’ leadership, a nature trail, which had become overgrown with bamboo and weeds, was discovered. Completely inaccessible to the community and mostly forgotten about, Peeples and other parks and recreation leaders set out to uncover the lost gem. Located behind Recreation Park, the nature trail winds through woods and wetlands — complete with a wooden bridge. Restoring the trail will add even more value to the only county park and the lives of its residents and visitors.

“I’m a lover of the outdoors, so hearing that they rediscovered a nature trail is exciting and hopeful for Hampton County,” said Stanley. “I hope this small bit of funding from us will inspire them to reach for the stars and apply for other funding opportunities to help complete their vision.”

To learn more about Wholespire funding opportunities, visit our Teaming Up for Health Outcomes page. Also, search for other funding opportunities at Options for Action.

Passing and Promoting an Open Community Use Agreement at USC Lancaster

Passing and Promoting an Open Community Use Agreement at USC Lancaster

In February 2019, the University of South Carolina Lancaster (USCL) applied for a Let’s Go! 3.0 mini-grant to increase access to its outdoor recreation amenities by adopting an open community use policy and to continue its active community environments work with Wholespire Lancaster County, formerly Eat Smart Move More Lancaster County.

The partners had completed several community health improvement projects that increased access to healthy opportunities. The mini-grant would help complete their vision while focusing on the Clinton community, a Qualified Opportunity Zone (QOZ) in the City of Lancaster. QOZs are characterized as economically distressed communities defined by the census tract.     

Existing projects that needed to be completed were:

  • Improvement of the built environment in the Clinton neighborhood by extending bike lanes and crosswalks and offering a loop to the Lindsay Pettus Greenway, which improved access to the USCL campus.
  • USCL public health students conducted an assessment on student on-campus walking behaviors. They used the data to develop walking routes for anyone to utilize while on campus.
  • USCL’s recreation facilities were open to the public (including trails, walking routes, tennis courts, picnic pavilion, 5K starting point, bike lanes, and crosswalks). However, the promotion of these facilities has been limited to word-of-mouth.
  • The Gregory YMCA began managing the operations of the University-owned recreation facility. USCL secured funding for the YMCA to provide sliding scale financial assistance to income-eligible YMCA members on a long-term, sustained basis. Approximately 400 Lancaster residents utilize this benefit from the YMCA, many of whom live in the nearby Clinton community.

Let’s Go 3.0 mini-grant funds were used to:

  1. Hire a professional designer to create a campus map of outdoor recreational facilities open to the public, which included the student-design walking routes.
  2. Purchase and install way-finding signs that promote the open use amenities and walking routes.
  3. Promote the open community use agreement policy to the community. Promotional strategies included issuing a press release to The Lancaster News, posting the press release on USCL’s website and social media, and announcing the existence and availability of these community resources at USCL’s student orientation and Clinton Elementary School’s Parent Night.
  4. Purchase bike racks for the Lindsay Pettus Greenway trailhead in the Clinton community and the USCL campus.

Initial Challenges

For USCL, the challenge wasn’t creating new opportunities for physical activities, it was promoting the ones they already had. The USCL campus has seven buildings, a YMCA in the physical education building, tennis courts, and about a mile and a half of natural path trails.

“We’re very community-oriented, and there’s a lot of word-of-mouth advertising. This is how a lot of small towns, small communities go. We just assume that people know things, but we’re only reaching our own social circles,” explained Lauren Vincent Thomas, professor of health promotion education and behavior at USCL.

The first step was passing an open community use agreement. “When we learned about the Let’s Go 3.0 mini-grant to promote and pass an open community use agreement, I felt like we kind of already had it, we just hadn’t set it as a policy,” said Thomas. “In reality, people use the trail and the tennis court IF they know that they can, but it wasn’t widely known information.”

During the initial conversation with university leadership, they said people already knew about the trails. Convincing them that the project had value was most of the battle with the project. According to Thomas, “Wholespire had this great manual that answered all of my questions. I felt very equipped and confident when the Education Foundation asked about liability.”

A Snowball Affect

Before this project moved to the next steps, debris that was dumped in front of trails was cleared. “It just sent a message that we didn’t care about the campus,” Thomas said while explaining how things like debris deterred people from using the trails. “After that, it was just about updating some features and showing what the campus had to offer. The website was updated, billboards with maps were placed in prime positions, and trail markers and entrances were added.”

Once the project was started, more opportunities were uncovered. “We found money to put split rail fencing up to show off the trail and leveraged funding from another grant to put bike racks in, and we worked with the South Carolina Wildlife Federation to certify that we had a wildlife habitat,” said Thomas. “It reminded us of what we had and gave us the opportunity to share with other people.”

Thomas’ favorite part of the project has been connecting with people who are readily willing to offer their own gifts, talents, and resources.

“We just needed to give them the opportunity and generously thank them for what they offer. For example, we partnered with, an organization in our community that builds ADA ramps for seniors and people who have disabilities, to build a new bridge on one of the trails. They were willing to do this project for us for free as long as they got the credit. There is so much creative generosity in our community. Now, our partners feel like the trails are just as much theirs as it is USC Lancaster’s and that’s exactly what we want.”

New Conversations

The students on campus have been enjoying the positive changes the project brought. The picnic shelter has seen new light now that people know it’s there and university organizations have been enjoying the cleared trails. An outdoor club put in geocaches and monitors them to add new prizes and F3, a male CrossFit group, uses the trails for Saturday morning runs.

The project has also affected conversations about the university’s 10-year Master Plan. “This mini-grant project has primed us to have that bigger conversation about walkability in our community,” said Thomas. “There is a four-lane highway between USC Lancaster’s campus and downtown Lancaster that could benefit from a crosswalk or pedestrian bridge!”

Thomas is hoping this project is the start of making the community more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

Spartanburg community pitches in on GoForth Recovery’s Mini-Grant Project

Spartanburg community pitches in on GoForth Recovery’s Mini-Grant Project

In Spring 2021, GoForth Recovery in Spartanburg found out about the Let’sGo! South Carolina 3.0 mini-grant opportunity offered by Wholespire, formerly Eat Smart Move More South Carolina. They needed an outdoor fitness area to provide residents, family members, and those in the Spartanburg community with a dedicated multi-use area to enhance the recovery journey and stimulate active living.

Changing unhealthy habits isn’t easy for anyone, especially those who suffer from addiction. And oftentimes, individuals who enter a recovery program like GoForth Recovery cannot afford a gym membership or even leave the premises for physical activity. Having a resource like an onsite basketball court allows residents a way to handle their stress and anxiety, while also providing a place for social interaction with their family, friends, and even the community. So, they applied for a mini-grant and received it!

Balancing Life and Making it Healthy

A basketball court may seem like a small thing, but for the residents at GoForth Recovery, it’s huge. It means a way to be physically active, a place to relieve stress and anxiety, and an activity to do during visits with family and friends. 

For the average person, balancing everything life throws at you can be overwhelming, and we often turn to stress eating or some other form of unhealthy coping. For people struggling with addictions, everyday life is even more difficult to handle because they have to relearn how to balance life. GoForth Recovery teaches its residents how to lead a well-balanced and healthy life because when a person in recovery doesn’t adopt healthy habits, they are more likely to relapse. To help prevent relapse, GoForth Recovery provides classes on everything from money management and how to shop with a list to healthy eating and active living. 

“Most guys who come in…no one has ever shown them how to have a good, balanced, healthy life. What does healthy look like,” explained Brian Naylor, executive director at GoForth Recovery. “We talk about seven hours of sleep, eating six times a day, what does healthy mean. If I’m getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising, then I’m more likely to stay in recovery. Nutrition and physical activity is key.” 

Naylor explained that their house is a healthy house. He’s witnessed guys turn their lives around and go full force into taking care of their bodies. “It’s amazing to see the success of these guys. When I say guys are drinking shakes at night, I’m watching them use kale, strawberries, bananas, and protein powder; and six months ago, they were shooting meth. That’s healthy. That’s recovery.”

The Power of Community

Before the project began.

Initially, the plan called for clearing enough land for the basketball court, but the vision soon grew to clear an entire lot to make room for future additions, like a pavilion and a playground for residents’ children and visitors. 

With any healthy eating and active living project, leveraging funds play an important role in the magnitude and success of the end product. GoForth Recovery had an ambitious job to complete with only $3,500 from Wholespire, which, according to Naylor, only covered about half of the actual costs of the basketball court. 

“We were able to get it done for next to nothing, except for gas. We had people donate equipment. We had guys who could operate it. We’re hauling off stuff to the dump. We had the City that donated their time, and they came and filled five or six truckloads of trees and debris.” 

Word got out to various community members, businesses, partners, and associates about the basketball court project and the need for help with one slightly large unbudgeted item — dirt, 20 tons of dirt. 

“After we graded the land, it required dirt because the land is low. The court system in Spartanburg was demolishing their old courthouse to build a garage. Word got out that we needed dirt. We also had a resident who was working for a local home builder. So for one week, there were close to 30 truckloads…and I’m talking about thousands and thousands of dollars of donations that were coming in. So just the dump trucks and the liability and the dirt, we were able to raise the land .”

Because of GoForth Recovery’s connections and the connections of their residents, they were able to leverage more than $10,000 in in-kind donations and complete their project. As Coretta Scott King once said, “ The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”  

Sharing is Caring

Since the completion of the basketball court, Naylor has witnessed increased activity among its residents. Duke Energy installed a light, so the guys take advantage of nighttime hoops. 

“We have other people from the recovery community show up to play basketball because there isn’t any other place to go, plus it’s a safe place,” said Naylor. “We have meetings on-site that are open to the public, so after a meeting, people will go outside to congregate and shoot baskets.” 

GoForth Recover also shares their new court with a local boys’ home, located one street behind the residence.  “They’re over there playing every day on our court. It’s been a good bridge between us and them because we’ve been able to invite them to things like devotion, breakfasts, and some of our group outings — all because of this basketball court.”

In the end, GoForth Recovery got their community basketball court and already prepared space for future additions. But, it didn’t happen without challenges. From tree stump removal, scheduling with partners, debris removal, grading, and weather, their residents rallied behind them and used their connections, skills, and experiences to see the project through to the end.  

“The challenges we encountered resulted in an incredible groundswell of resident unity, partner engagement, community involvement, and generous companies that helped us build a community basketball court, which far exceeded our vision in quality when we applied for our initial grant funding from Wholespire,” said Naylor.

GoForth Recovery, a non-profit organization established in 2018, is a men’s addiction recovery program and residential transitional living home for alcoholics and drug addicts. Their six-month residential program provides housing and a structured environment that allows alcoholics and addicts to recover from a hopeless and helpless state of mind and body. Their primary goal is to enable the resident to take responsibility for their recovery and build the foundation for them to be a productive member of their community.

Wholespire awards ten mini-grants to communities in South Carolina

Wholespire awards ten mini-grants to communities in South Carolina

Wholespire is pleased to announce that ten Healthy Eating, Active Living mini-grants have been awarded to non-profit organizations, schools, faith-based organizations, community coalitions, and local government in South Carolina. This mini-grant was awarded through a competitive application process to fund sustainable projects that aim to reduce chronic disease and create more fair and equal opportunities to make healthy choices by improving access to healthy food or creating opportunities for physical activity.

The ten mini-grant recipients are:

Bridging the Gap Advocacy – The Home Plate Initiative, led by Bridging the Gap (BTG) in Laurens County, is a small home that is currently being transformed into a community education center for the HYPE team, youth, and families within the region. Funding will be used to create a demonstration kitchen for BTG program participants to utilize produce from its community garden to aid in cooking competence and food literacy. The kitchen will be open to the community after BTG hours. This project is being supported by Clemson YLI SNAP-Ed, Lakelands Regions YMCA, and Wholespire Laurens County. 

Charleston Orphan House, Inc (Carolina Youth Development Center) – Growing Goodness is a community garden project that will be located on the Berkeley County Campus. Also supported by The Green Heart Project, funds will be used to build garden beds to engage group foster care youth in hands-on gardening activities that will promote physical and mental health. 

City of Darlington – The City of Darlington Outdoor Fitness Project expands on and continues a larger plan created for the Frank & Mary Sue Wells Park by the City of Darlington Beautification Board. Funds will be used to purchase and install outdoor fitness equipment and bicycle racks in four parks. This project aims to continue to promote an active lifestyle by giving citizens more access to an active mode of travel, through the placement of bicycle racks, and several designated areas to freely perform fitness routines across the city.

Helping Others Progress through Education (H.O.P.E.) – Serving the Community with FoodShare York County is an effort by H.O.P.E. to strengthen the food system and reduce food insecurity in the southside of Rock Hill. Funds will be used to create community gardens that will help supply FoodShare York County, as well as increase the number of SNAP customers by promoting FoodShare in apartment complexes, training partner organizations on SNAP equipment, and training staff on the Healthy Bucks program. 

Marion County Library System – The Storyscape project is an interactive outdoor literacy self-guided walking and biking trail activity featuring 20 hanging structures that display sequenced pages of a children’s book and placed throughout a high-traffic area within the community. Already established and well-received by the community, funding will be used to reinforce the structures at Marion Hike Bike Trail in the City of Marion.

Oakwood-Windsor Elementary – Open community use is an asset for community members in Aiken who use Oakwood-Windsor Elementary’s open fields for physical activity after school hours. Funds for the Hydrating and ASSISTing our OWES Community project will be used to purchase an outdoor water hydration/bottle filling station and two soccer goals for use by the community. 

SC School for the Deaf and the Blind Foundation – The Freedom to Play project will improve the play experience for sensory multi-disabled students at Cedar Springs Academy in Spartanburg. Challenges like slipping, falling, and getting hurt for these students keep them from running freely. Funds for this project will be used to purchase adaptive play equipment and paint lines on a recently paved surface to create a walking track, half basketball court, and hopscotch, and Four-square game areas.

The S.O.S. Project, Inc. at Poplar Spring AME Church – Like many rural communities, the Ora community in Laurens County doesn’t have sidewalks, parks, or any safe areas that promote physical activity. By creating a safe space at Poplar Spring AME Church, community members can use the area to be physically active and improve their health. Through the Creating a Healthy Community project, funds will be used to transform a grass basketball court to concrete or asphalt, creating a kids’/family corner by adding playground equipment and benches, repairing and upgrading the baseball field, and adding safety features like lights and signage.

Generation 4 – An Open Play Space for Community Use is a collaborative project between Generation 4 and Wholespire Anderson County to encourage the use of a trail located at Welfare Baptist Church in Belton. Funds will be used to erect Passport to Health kiosks along the trail that will offer health information. This project will improve upon and assist in the development of a place where all community members have a safe, secure, accessible, equitable, and enjoyable place to walk and be physically active. 

Wholespire Richland County – The Project Discovery Palmetto Trails aims to increase access to physical activity for families in Hopkins through the use of the local trailhead of the Wateree Passage of the Palmetto Trail. Funds for this project will be used to purchase signage for this section of the trail to help guide trail users and to help them feel more comfortable knowing where they are going. The Palmetto Trail is supporting this project and will partner on guided trail hikes, educational sessions, and materials.

Funding for these mini-grants was made possible by a grant received by Wholespire, formerly Eat Smart Move More South Carolina, and the South Carolina Office of Rural Health from the BlueCross® BlueShield® of South Carolina Foundation, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.