Bill Gibson initially didn’t think he could take advantage of Sarasota County’s Neighborhood Grant Program. He changed his mind after attending a workshop in May at the Elsie Quirk Library in Englewood.
“A lot of things we wanted to do with a grant we couldn’t, because you can’t use grant money for anything not available to the public,” said Gibson, who is the board secretary at the Villas at Charleston Park in North Port. “It posed some problems as a gated community.”
Sarasota County is kicking off a new round of workshops starting Aug. 27 in Venice, followed by a 10 a.m. to noon session Sept. 11 at Elsie Quirk, and one in North Port on Sept. 25.
“The workshop is really good,” Gibson said. “The meeting was informative, being over two hours. (When you fill out the forms), you have to provide reasons for the funding. You have to pay for the projects and the county reimburses you. They give you credit for volunteer hours.”
Kathlyn Vieira, Sarasota County grant coordinator, said they’ll reward volunteer hours at $15 per hour.
“The grant program is a 50/50 match where the program is funded through donations,” she said.
Vieira said programs can receive up to $10,000 to improve conditions of the neighborhood for beautification, safety, environmental issues, lifestyle improvement or community building, as long as there is public access.
The projects Gibson had funded involved the exterior of the community.
“We have a bunch of fluorescent lights we’re replacing with high-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for our signage,” Gibson said. “The exterior of our wall was in poor shape. We wanted to update by painting them.”
Vieira said the program averages $99,000 in annual funding for such projects. The workshops, held twice a year throughout the county, will run through October.
“We spread out our scheduling so everyone in the county has a chance,” she said. “Sarasota County residents can attend any of the meetings and, if necessary, we can do a one-on-one. We get five on average who attend these meetings.”
Vieira said Venice residents who come to the meetings tend to be the most active, and they’re trying to get more people involved from Englewood and North Port.
Gibson said some due diligence is encouraged before going to a meeting.
“Before attending, people should download the appropriate forms and research so they can ask the right questions,” Gibson said.
Attendance at a workshop is mandatory to apply for grants. Admission is free, but reservations are required.
“The most important thing about the program is that you have to have the support of the community if you are to start any project,” Vieira said.
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