While ongoing impacts of COVID-19 linger throughout our neighborhoods and communities, we lean on our neighbors for support. Even as resources wear thin, Neighborhood Connections, a nationally recognized community building program, continues to fuel small organizations that serve Cleveland and East Cleveland residents through their Neighbor Up COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants.
“Neighborhood Connections was approached by the Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to see if we would be interested in creating and managing a small grants program for small nonprofits, small faith-based organizations, and grassroots civic groups,” says Neighborhood Connections Program Director Tom O’Brien. “[Our] staff and a few network members were talking about providing funds prior to GCCRRF approaching us, so when they approached us, we had already talked through some of it as a team.”
Funded by the Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund and Neighborhood Connections, $200,000 worth of grants will be distributed in increments of $500 to $5,000 over 12 weeks. These funds are intended to enable small groups with limited staff and budgets to be responsive to emergency and basic needs requests, providing support for operations, and/or reducing social isolation for community members they serve.
“Proposals are reviewed every week, and funds are distributed within 14 days or less of applying,” says O’Brien. “Groups and organizations in Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties are eligible and do not need to be a 501c (3) nonprofit but will need a fiscal sponsor.”
Faced with ever-changing challenges, these small yet mighty organizations seek creative ways to continue providing their much-needed services, a list as diverse as our communities.
Efforts involve “lots of mask making, mask distribution, bridging the digital divide, creating connections to reduce isolation and loneliness, and also [the] distribution of food, hygiene supplies, and cleaning products,” O’Brien says.
Neighbor Up Rapid Response Grants have empowered the youth-led Bhutanese Response Assistance Volunteer Effort (BRAVE) of the Connecting Cleveland Community to connect Nepali-speaking Bhutanese families with supplies and resources.
In addition, Helping Hands Community Development can continue to provide food and supplies to residents in Glenville. And the Ashbury Senior Community Computer Center can maintain technology education and support for older adults during the pandemic.
On Cleveland’s West side, essential laundry and hunger needs are being met through Laundry Love: Messiah, an outreach program of Messiah Lutheran Church and School in Fairview Park. Pre-COVID-19, Laundry Love partnered with Leo’s Laundromat to pay for washer and dryer use of low income or no income families and individuals once a month. The event also included a community meal featuring healthy food options and free books for every child through Messiah’s literacy partner, the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank. As businesses closed and people suddenly lost jobs, Laundry Love’s services were in much higher demand, and their Neighbor Up Rapid Response Grant enabled them to scale appropriately.
“Our grant covers the cost of washing and drying items of low-income families and individuals throughout the month, rather than at our usual one event on the last Thursday of the month,” says Messiah Lutheran School Admissions & Enrollment Coordinator Janice Snyder. “Funds also provided items like hand-sanitizer, masks, cleaning supplies, and signage to keep the essential laundromat workers and our guests safe.”
A second service location has been added at Messiah Lutheran Church, located at 21485 Lorain Road in Fairview Park, and grant funds have been used to purchase and repurpose a Little Free Library box into a Little Free Pantry that will allow members of the community self-serve access to non-perishable food items.
“Being able to provide grocery items in this time of food insecurity is of great importance,” Snyder says. Speaking to the shifting needs at the laundromat, she adds, “Laundry Love: Messiah is increasing our donations of detergent and personal hygiene items to help at a time when parents are now having to decide between clean laundry or food for their families.”
For Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice (EYEJ), which has served 1,500 youth in the last 6 1/2 years, the Rapid Response Grant provided funds that allowed them to shift their programming to a virtual platform to sustain its mission of amplifying youth voices for those that are silent.
“We quickly pivoted to create two online programs – the All-Star Reading program for 6-8th graders and young adults, and YODJ: Youth Online Discussing Justice for 6-12th graders,” says EYEJ Program Director Kathryn Ross.
The 8-week YODJ discussion series explores topics ranging from civil rights, money, toxic stress and violence, among others, followed by a 4-week photography reflection project. The curriculum is rooted in civil discourse, social-emotional development, life skills, and preparing youth for their futures to be successful.
“Due to COVID-19 and the growing lens of the social injustice currently in the world, our students are in more need than ever to be engaged, mentored, and have a space in which they can share how they feel and get resources and tools to implement into their everyday lives,” Ross says. “The Neighbor Up grant supported EYEJ in its ability to adapt quickly to the changing state of the world.”
For more information about Neighbor Up COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants, or to learn how to apply, click here.