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Council awards $28K in grants to 10 nonprofits

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Kids First, the local agency that counsels abused children, has been awarded $7,500 from the city of Elizabeth City's Community Support Grant program. The nonprofit is one of 10 approved for grants from the program.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, November 16, 2018

Elizabeth City City Council voted Tuesday to award $28,000 in grants to 10 local nonprofit groups, despite some councilors’ agreement with a citizen who claimed they were ignoring their own grant-award guidelines.

Councilors voted to award Community Support Grants to nonprofits serving children and low-income individuals in various ways. Kids First, a counseling service for abused children, got the largest grant at $7,500, followed by River City Community Development Corp., which received two grants totaling $6,000. 

Councilors largely agreed on the grant amounts last month, and approved them with little change or debate Tuesday. During a public hearing on the grants, however, Second Ward resident Bill Hiemer raised numerous criticisms of the council's funding decisions, which he said often do not match the grant program’s written guidelines.

Hiemer noted council has prioritized grants for arts and cultural activities, scientific literacy, basic needs like food and clothing, housing and shelter, health treatment, and recreation and athletics.

“None of the current awards focus on these top two listed objectives,” Hiemer said, referring to the artistic and scientific priorities, adding some awards don't match any of those priorities.

Hiemer did not specify which grants he was referring to, but two of the awards, to the Eastern Women's Entrepreneurship Center and iEmpower, concern business and youth leadership-oriented programs.

Hiemer also said the council disqualified an applicant that proposed to provide musical instruction at H.L. Trigg Community School. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church asked for about $3,600 for that purpose, but Councilor Johnnie Walton advised against it out of concern for funding a religious organization, and because the request lacked input from school officials.

Council did not similarly disqualify the SOULS feeding ministry, another religious organization, from funding, Hiemer noted.

Hiemer also said that the Community Support Grant program’s guidelines call for funding “distinct projects,” but some organizations asked for funds simply to offset their utility costs. River City CDC, for example, asked for a program-specific grant and a grant for utility funds. Most organizations could do the same, but didn't, he said.

“I don't think it's fair,” he said.

Hiemer also noted that councilors sometimes fund organizations despite city staff scoring their requests poorly.

Hiemer recommended the council rework the Community Support Grant program to have more general priorities, such as serving youth, and recommend organizations be told to submit smaller, “realistic” grant requests so money can be shared with a dozen or so groups. He also recommended the minimum grant amount should be $1,000, citing the “arduous” review nonprofits have to go through.

Councilors Johnnie Walton and Darius Horton thanked Hiemer for his input, and said councilors should consider it in next year's budget for the Community Support Grant program. Walton added, however, that the grant-award process cannot totally satisfy everyone, and councilors had other thoughts in reaching their decisions.

In one change, however, Walton asked that Elizabeth City State University receive $1,000, not $500, toward establishing a food pantry for students. He recommended finding that money by shifting $500 from River City CDC's proposed grant of $4,000 for operating costs.

Other councilors agreed to the change, approving the awards unanimously.

The complete, final awards, and the organizations receiving them, include:

* Kids First — $7,500 for counseling for abused children

* River City CDC — $6,000 for operating costs and home repairs for low-income people

* Boys & Girls Club — $4,000 for utility bills

* iEmpower — $2,500 for a youth leadership conference

* Healthy Carolinians of the Albemarle — $1,600 for promoting exercise

* SOULS — $1,500 for utilities; SOULS provides free meals to poor city residents

* Albemarle Family YMCA — $1,500 to support swimming classes for young children

* Dream Hunt and Fishing — $1,400 to support youth outdoor activities

* Eastern Women's Entrepreneurship Center — $1,000 to support business counseling

* ECSU — $1,000 for a food pantry for students.

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