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Community LIFT funds neighborhood-level economic/community development projects

Community LIFT has awarded $41,000 in small grants to 17 resident leaders, neighborhood associations and grassroots nonprofit organizations through its Memphis Empowerment Fund.

Launched last year, the Empowerment Fund is designed to provide financial assistance to grassroots leaders and organizations for community work that improves the quality of life in Memphis’ under-resourced neighborhoods.

Residents, business or property owners, and neighborhood associations were eligible to apply for grants of up to $2,500 to fund community-supported projects that promote community cohesion, improve the physical spaces in the neighborhood, cultivate financial stability, and/or assist neighborhood stakeholders in collaborative action.

Projects supported by 2018 grants range from a pop-up food truck and vendor fair in Whitehaven and “Yard of the Month” neighborhood landscaping services in Soulsville USA to asset and financial literacy counseling in Raleigh and the creation of a safety committee in the Buntyn neighborhood.

“We are very pleased with the diversity and caliber of the projects proposed by our 2018 Empowerment Fund awardees,” said Nefertiti Orrin, grants director for Community LIFT.

“Forty-one percent of this year’s projects are focused on economic development. With the economy doing well, there are more opportunities for ordinary people to plug in and try out a new idea or make neighborhood enhancements that nurture small businesses and creative go-getters,” Orrin said.

“We are thrilled to be able to assist that entrepreneurial spirit in neighborhoods across Memphis and help build the grassroots leadership capacity that will move our community toward a brighter and more equitable economic future.”

This year’s Empowerment Fund awardees are all first-time LIFT grant recipients. Individual applicants were encouraged to partner with established community development corporations or neighborhood associations to implement their projects, and 76 percent of the 2018 grant recipients have done so.

That encouragement was in keeping with recommendations outlined in “Investments in Grassroots Leaders”, an analysis of the Empowerment Fund commissioned by Community LIFT in July. The report identified strong community collaboration as a key factor in project success.

The commissioned report also indicated that access to practical training and other resources was a significant indicator of successful projects. This year’s Empowerment Fund awardees will receive, in addition to the grant amount, several hours of technical assistance in areas such as planning, budgeting, raising additional capital, and other workaday aspects of project management.

Including the technical assistance, the total Empowerment Fund investment for 2018 is $51,000.

The recently launched Whitehaven food truck and vendor fair was offered as an illustration of the underlying mission of the Empowerment Fund: strengthening community relationships. The fair, which kicked off last Saturday in conjunction with the Whitehaven Christmas Parade, is the result of a partnership between Whitehaven resident Pearl Walker and GWERC, Whitehaven’s community development corporation.

Walker said the grant will help her extend her commitment to community service by promoting economic development.

“I hope to help encourage community pride and re-brand Whitehaven as the go-to place for family activities, shopping and fun,” she said.

Trey McKnight, executive director of GWERC, said the goal is to host the food truck event monthly to show that the area can and will support a sit-down restaurant. The initiative is located in an abandoned commercial area along Elvis Presley Boulevard

(To learn more about the Memphis Empowerment Fund and view the list of awardees and projects, go to www.communitylift.org.)

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