Small grant program funds in Champaign doubled this fiscal year; Program supports neighborhood initiatives, activities

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Photo of Washington Street Neighborhood’s Fourth of July parade in 2023.

The funding for Champaign’s Neighborhood Small Grant Program increased from ​about ​$22,500 to $52,000​ this fiscal year, meaning​ it can assist​ dozens more projects, ranging from neighborhood cleanups to spring picnics.

Since 2018, the program has given $68,092 to nine neighborhoods for 166 projects as of November last year. In previous years, funding ranged from $18,500 to $25,000 — but the funding shot up to $52,011 this fiscal year. 

The budget for fiscal year 2019​ was $22,500. Each fiscal year since 2019, the program’s budget stayed below $25,000. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the budget declined by 26% to $18,500. Last fiscal year, which ended in June 2023, it recovered back to $22,500. 

The rise in funding can be attributed to Champaign’s Neighborhood Services Department initiative to revitalize community engagement following the COVID-19 pandemic, Neighborhood Relations Manager John Ruffin said.

“Small grant funding was increased to support the Neighborhood Services Department’s efforts to implement our 43/43/43 Campaign with our registered neighborhood groups,” Ruffin said. “The campaign was initiated as an effort to restart in-person engagement after the COVID pandemic.” 

In total, 41 grants were provided to neighborhoods last fiscal year. 34 grants were granted to the various registered neighborhoods. The average number of grants provided each fiscal year is about 25. 

Some projects financed since fiscal year 2019 include fence repairs, neighborhood cleanups, children at play signs, Halloween parades, i​ce cream socials and n​eighborhood barbecues.

On July 4, 2022, ​the ​500 to ​800 W. Washington​ neighborhood​ held a Fourth of July parade. The requested budget for the neighborhood event was $462.49, but the total expenses came out to be $260.14. The neighborhood hosts the parade and a potluck every summer.  

Photo of Washington Street Neighborhood 40th annual Fourth of July parade. 

The most funded projects typically revolve around neighborhood clean-ups. The Washington Street group regularly hosts neighborhood yard waste cleanup projects. 

The group also requested funds from the grant program to purchase a roll-off dumpster for the community to dispose of any debris. 

Photo of 500-800 W. Washington’s community clean-up from Neighborhood Services News in 2016. 

Brenda Koenig, a representative of the Washington Street neighborhood, said the grant program offers neighborhoods the chance to foster an environment for public gatherings to be enjoyed by all people inside and outside of the neighborhood. 

“These grants help us come together to organize events and see them through,” Koenig said. “We celebrate our community and celebrate everybody in it; anytime we host events, it brings people together and makes the community stronger.” 

Koenig currently assists the Washington Street neighborhood by coming up with new ideas for events such as architectural tours and educating the neighborhood about the history of the neighborhood.

Koenig said the help of the grant program’s funds creates a sense of responsibility among community members to be active participants. She said the neighborhood, like many others, thrives off of the individuals living there. 

“It takes the willingness of just a few people to start coming together,” Koenig said. “The grant program gives us the opportunity to talk about issues we find important to us and makes us proud of the place we live in.”

​​On Sept. 10, 2022, the BPM2 neighborhood group​, encompassing the area bounded by Bradley, Prospect, Mattis and Mimosa streets, hosted its first neighborhood barbecue and block party for all residents to attend. The event had more than 50 attendees and involved food, games, music and a bounce house for guests to enjoy.

​​The original requested amount was $875 but the total amount of expenses came to $461.82. On July 8, 2023, BPM2 hosted another barbecue with the help of the small grant program and a spending cost of $200.

Photo by Neighborhood Services News of BPM2 neighborhood barbecue in 2022. 

The Small Grant Program is funded by a portion of the city’s Urban Renewal Fund. Urban Renewal funding derives from 75% of the city’s tax on utilities, electric, gas and water. It is designed to fund resources for community improvement activities managed by the Neighborhood Services Department.  

The program provides small grants to registered communities through an application process. Neighborhoods can receive up to $5,000 within a fiscal year, while the maximum grant amount per request for an eligible project is $2,500. 

In December 1995, the city council approved the grant program, also known as the pilot program or the Neighborhood Improvement Program (NIP). The Neighborhood Small Grant Program Manual​ said the program’s purpose is to ​“​​encourage citizens to take an active role in organizing their neighborhoods and to prioritize neighborhood needs. The University of Illinois partnered with the City and neighborhood residents to assist with neighborhood-based planning.”

Businesses and community-based organizations such as neighborhood watch committees, homeowners associations and neighborhood groups are welcome​ to apply for the small grant program.

There are currently ten registered neighborhood associations listed on the city of Champaign website. The other neighborhood associations are:

  • ​​500-800 W. Washington
  • ​​Beardsley Park Neighborhood Association​
  • ​​​BPM2
  • ​​Champaign’s Best Kids​
  • Clark Park Neighborhood 
  • Garden Park & Edgebrook Neighborhood Association 
  • ​​Martin Luther King Subdivision
  • ​​Neighborhood Co-Labourers Community Group​
  • Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park 
  • United Garden Hills Neighborhood Association 

​​Most of the program’s funded events are intended to repair the community. Although many of the grants center around community cleanups, the events within the program seem to have expanded into other quality-of-life improvements.

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