The Vancouver Foundation is encouraging people throughout the province to come together with friends and neighbours and apply for up to $500 to work together on small projects that build connections in their community.
The Neighbourhood Small Grants program has been running in the Metro Vancouver area since 1999, and in 2020 expanded to cover the entire province. Yunuen Perez Vertti, an emerging communities program coordinator for the Vancouver Foundation, says that the grant is not intended for formal organizations, groups, or non-profits; it’s meant for individuals or ad hoc groups who want to bring people together and make them more resilient.
“A lot of the grants in the past were for block parties so people could get to know their neighbours, or community gardens, or skill-sharing workshops. When the pandemic hit, the Vancouver Foundation wanted to make the program available to everyone in the province.”
The program has been offered in the Thompson-Cariboo region for three years, funding up to dozen projects per year. In 2021, Spences Bridge artist Kathleen Kinasewich received $500 to work on an art project in Lytton. After fire devastated that community on June 30, she was able to use the funding for projects in Spences Bridge and Ashcroft instead.
Vertti says that a lot of project leaders who received funding last year asked for permission to switch projects.
“One was going to have a block party, and instead switched to fire awareness kits to teach about fire prevention. They got information and purchased smoke detectors, and had their fire department come to talk about how to prevent fires. We’re flexible.”
She says that the projects they support are up to the creativity of those who apply. “Our goal is for people to connect through the projects we fund. We have six principles we base our philosophy on: everyone has gifts; small is powerful; local decisions are best; where we live matters; we learn together; and everyone is invited.”
Vertti adds that this last principle is key. “We have no restrictions on who can apply. There are no age restrictions. We’ve had applicants as young as nine and as old as 99.”
The Small Neighbourhood Grant is, says Vertti, one of the few grants available specifically for residents. “We want to empower individuals who want to bring people together, learn from each other, talk more. Little libraries are very popular, and some people put together food baskets for isolated seniors or to welcome new families to a community. People come up with lots of ideas.”
The projects have to be free, open to everyone in community, and connect people in some way. If two or three people want to make a larger impact, they can apply separately and then combine their projects.
“People could do a festival, or a series of workshops. Events don’t have to be all on one day; they can take place over multiple days. Different people can create different aspects of something and join forces to create a larger project with a larger impact.”
Grant requests need to be submitted by May 16, and projects must be completed by Nov. 30. Vertti says that the application itself is a very simple, one-page form that can be done online (go to www.neighbourhoodsmallgrants.ca) or on paper.
All applications are reviewed by local residents who volunteer their time and make the decisions, which ties in with the principle of “local decisions are best”.
“We don’t know the community well enough to know what’s needed,” says Vertti. “Decisions have to be made at the local level. And we’re not looking for the perfect written application with perfect grammar and keywords. We’re looking for projects that align with our philosophy, so we’ll work with applicants to help their project fit so we can approve it.
“We’re also able to work with people to help make a project work if there is a need to pivot. We do a lot of work with project leaders after they get funding to make sure projects get executed.” Out of the 22 projects approved in the Thompson-Cariboo region last year, only one could not be completed, despite all the challenges the region faced.
“We would love it if people applied,” says Vertti. “We want to help in whatever way we can to bring communities together, and we hope it helps people.”