How Cawaco chooses grant recipients

Published 11:51 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

Several projects in Chilton County have been made possible through grants from the Cawaco Resource Conservation and Development Council.

A lot of work goes on behind the scenes with the grant application and paperwork to make each project possible.

Patti Pennington of Cawaco said the organization has “goals and areas of focus that we have to look at.”

Any time an organization is applying for a grant they have to make sure what they want to do fits the guidelines of what the entity giving the funds will approve.

“All councils in Alabama are different. All of them have different goals and objectives, so we are all unique,” Pennington said. “The Cawaco funds … workforce development, outdoor recreation, community planning and design, local food and first responder support … natural resource conservation and strategic habitat.”

Cawaco is the RC&D council for Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby and Walker counties. Each county has a member on the board. An organization’s reputation and support in the community is considered as a part of the grant review process.

“Sometimes they don’t have a lot of community support, and that is why they need a grant,” Pennington said. “We always know they are going to have a whole lot more success with being able to complete the grant, if they have good volunteers, if they have people to spearhead these projects.”

Pennington said a good example of how this works is Chestnut Creek Heritage Chapel near Verbena.

“They have done a great job of fundraising, and we know whatever they ask that they are going to get it done,” Pennington said.

In a previous interview, Ola Taylor of Chestnut Creek Heritage Chapel said the organization had received five grants from Cawaco.

Fundraising events are still important because the grants from Cawaco are reimbursement grants. This means that the Heritage Chapel, or whomever is receiving a grant, has to spend the money on the project first, then submit for reimbursement.

Online applications are only accepted from April 1 to July 1 each year. Project must then be started in October and be completed by July 31 of the following year. Applications are required to include information about the nonprofit, community partners, volunteers and the project, including specific things that would need to be purchased and goals it will fulfill.

To qualify for a Cawaco grant, the nonprofit must be in Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby or Walker counties.

The funds available for distribution fluctuate from year to year.

“How we get our money is through the Alabama Association of Resource Conservation & Development Councils, and they get their funding through the legislative appropriations,” Pennington said. “We don’t know how much money we are getting locally. We are very fortunate that the legislature recognizes the value of the projects that happen.”

Funding was increased last year, but the applications received increased as well.

Deciding what to fund was a challenge.

“There were some that did not get funded that were worthy of funding,” Pennington said.

Some of these may be put on an alternates list. If an organization that received a grant could not meet the grant requirement to spend the entire amount and apply for reimbursement in the time allowed, the funds are not released to them and are given to one of the projects on the alternates list. Unfortunately, Cawaco cannot grant extensions on when the project has to be paid for.

Some local projects that have received funding from Cawaco include Minooka Park, the New Convert storm shelter, improvements to existing storm shelters, the Interstate 65, Exit 212 master plan, Jemison Intermediate’s greenhouse and programs by the Chilton Natural Resource Council.