Grants to local programs go deeper than the basics

Two foundations have awarded 15 grants of nearly $150,000 to local programs.

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For a second season of "First Fruits" granting, the Vista Hermosa Foundation and Blue Mountain Community Foundation presented 15 area agencies with money on Monday evening.

In a ceremony at the YWCA, the two foundations granted $147,800 to help further collaborative and innovative approaches to building self-sufficiency, "for the most under served in our community," said Lawson Knight, executive director of Blue Mountain Community Foundation.

In choosing grantees, preference was given to alternative and non-traditional strategies for tackling improved access to basic needs, which is expanded in this case to include security, economic well-being, a sense of belonging and control over one's life.

The money to help organizations help others comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in money awarded to BMCF this year, and proceeds from Broetje Orchards, which is funneled into the Vista Hermosa Foundation. "First Fruits" grants were established to make life-changing differences in the Walla Walla area.

The 2009-2010 "First Fruits" awards went to the following:

  • Blue Mountain Action Council -- $10,000 to the Asset Building Coalition. Launched just over a year ago, the goal of the coalition is to develop strategies for low-income earners to stretch their incomes in order to save for a significant asset, such as an emergency fund, car or home. That is done in a variety of ways, including ensuring all eligible taxpayers apply for earned income tax credit, offering financial education and helping families improve or sustain good credit.
  • Blue Mountain Action Council -- $3,300 to improve its food distribution system and food bank. The agency serves the region's food banks and at times of peak warehouse delivery and inventory, proper sorting and storage can be impacted. With additional specialty bins bought with grant money, more food can be sorted, safely stored and efficiently distributed. The grant will also be spent on a direct-to-consumer pilot program in which backpacks are stocked with nutritious, free food for delivery each Friday at Lincoln Alternative High School. The packs will be returned on Monday and replenished for the following weekend. This serves students who receive nutritious meals at school through the federal lunch program. The teens can continue to have a food source during out-of-school time.
  • Blue Mountain Young Life -- $5,000 for the "Young Lives" program, began this year in an effort to reach teen mothers. Participating moms meet weekly in a social environment that connects participants to others and allows for relationship building and sharing experiences. In addition, each mom has a one-on-one relationship with a mentor mom, plus an additional caregiver for her child. The program year is capped by a week-long excursion to a family camp for mother and child, plus her mentor and childcare provider.
  • Catholic Charities -- $9,000 for refugee and immigration assistance. This will be done through expanded hours and services at St. Patrick Catholic Church. Low-cost services, referrals and resources are provided for low-income immigrants. Efforts are focused on following legal pathways to keep families together and reunite family members who are separated. The majority of immigration clients in southeastern Washington are from Mexico and other Latin American countries. The program works to help them gain the legal status they want and need so they can work and contribute in a positive way to the community.
  • Commitment to Community -- $30,000 for operating costs and leadership initiatives. Commitment to Community is a coalition of public and private service providers focused on working alongside neighborhood residents in a grass roots manner. This allows residents to take ownership and address neighborhood own issues. After three years of operation, Commitment to Community is working in the Jefferson Park, Washington Park and Edith-Carrie street neighborhoods. "Building a healthy community and economy begins from within, through investing in people and neighborhoods," Knight wrote in a press release. "Research shows that significant community development occurs only when local residents have a sense of ownership and are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort."
  • Helpline -- $8,000 for transportation assistance. Helpline is a primary screening and referral agency in the Walla Walla Valley for emergency social services. Many of its clients use the Valley Transit bus system for their jobs and household needs and Helpline offers bus passes in certain circumstances. The money will enable Helpline to sustain and enlarge the access it provides clients through Valley Transit.
  • Lincoln Alternative High school -- $20,000 for general support at the discretion of Principal Jim Sporleder. The grant will be used to support student programs and activities that encourage pupils to connect with school and foster positive adult relationships.
  • Pleasant View Alternative High School -- $4,000 for general use as determined by lead teacher Brian Gabbard. The fund will support engaging students in leadership activities and the community. With an enrollment of less than100 students, the school has no Parent Teacher Association and no Associated Student Body. As a result, there are limited community-building opportunities or fundraising chances that these common school institutions normally offer, Knight pointed out.
  • Rising Sun Clubhouse -- $10,000 to allow the agency to continue to play a vital role in providing support and care for the chronically mentally ill. The Clubhouse is pursuing certification to be considered an "international" Clubhouse. Rising Sun provides a supportive place reflecting a model of social rehabilitation that empowers its members to reach their full potential while rediscovering their self-respect, dignity and abilities. To accomplish that, opportunities are provided for members to perform productive work, create meaningful relationships and to belong to a community.
  • Rural Green Youth Enterprise -- $5,000 for program development. This is a new initiative formed by residents of Waitsburg, Walla Walla, Dayton, Prescott, Starbuck and Pomeroy, rising out of a conviction that a need exists for a comprehensive, regional approach for economic development for youth centered around "green" technology and community-supported agriculture. The organization's goals include education and training for youth in sustainable green technologies and community-supported agriculture, then establishing youth-operated businesses in those fields.
  • Student Health Options -- $12,000 for licensed counseling services at the Lincoln Health Center. Student Health Options has evolved from a passion of several community members convicted that the community could and should do a better job regarding the health and welfare of students. Thus Student Health Options was established as a nonprofit, intended to operate a school-linked health center for all the students at Lincoln Alternative High School in a professional, convenient and accessible manner. Student Health Options will offer access to mental health counselors working at the center for 12 hours. Emphasis is placed on case management and follow through with students and parents. Licensed counselors allow students the opportunity to seek help while at school and, hopefully, handle issues before they become more severe.
  • Student Health Options -- $4,000 to fund open and closed counseling groups at the Lincoln Health Center to help students express concerns in a safe environment.
  • Walla Walla County Housing Authority -- $15,000 for organizational planning and development. The agency operates the Walla Walla Farm Labor Homes under the authority of the Walla Walla County Commissioners; this grant underwrites consulting services and support n areas such as governance, strategic planning and facilitation of joint meetings with the Walla Walla Housing Authority. The money will allow for a newly created strategic plan along with benchmarking of comparable organizations, which will eventually better serve the hundreds of families that live in Farm Labor Home.
  • Sherwood Leadership Class -- $7,500 for a "Play Learn Center" at the Center at the Park, in Jefferson Park. The proposed center will provide children of working parents and their caregivers an opportunity for a safe, community-based place to learn and play. The grant, matched by funds from the Sherwood Trust, will underwrite the costs to renovate and remodel a 750 square-foot room furnished with developmentally-appropriate materials. The environment will provide children and caregivers with the resources to be ready to enter school. In addition, the "Play amp; Learn Center" functions alongside the many programs serving Walla Walla's senior population, offering opportunities for the young and the young-at-heart to intermingle and build relationships.
  • YWCA -- $5,000 for the Mariposa program, which helps girls develop skills necessary to succeed in school and avoid early pregnancy. The group addresses topics that include sexual harassment, dating, career options, education planning, substance abuse, body image, family violence, cultural pride and women's roles. Activities have included field trips to colleges and workplaces, community service organizations and mentoring projects.

The "First Fruits" money will allow for special opportunities to reach young women in new ways, such as hiking, camping and swimming.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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