Building neighborhood pride, sparking connections between neighbors and enhancing quality of life are all benefits of the City of Valparaiso’s Neighborhood Improvement Grants.
“Neighborhood improvement grants gather neighbors together and empower them to complete projects of their own design,” said Maggie Clifton, Valpo’s Community Engagement Director who manages the grant program, funded by the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission.
Since the grant program was introduced in 2018, 79 grants totaling more than $785,000 have been awarded to neighborhood groups, supporting individual projects with community-wide impact. Projects have included tree plantings, little libraries, common area upgrades, enhancements for neighborhood parks and even a beach volleyball court.
With matching contributions from the neighborhoods themselves, the Neighborhood Improvement Grant program has resulted in a positive impact of more than $1 million citywide since 2018.
“The grants provide a great incentive for new groups to come together or for existing homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to introduce new ideas,” said Clifton. “They think ‘If we have access to these dollars, what can we do to amplify our neighborhood and make it even better?’ Neighborhood work is volunteer driven and builds relationships.”
To collect ideas, neighborhoods hold gatherings, create Facebook surveys, throw block parties and more.
“Projects vary by neighborhood based on what space it has available and what the neighborhood’s priorities are, so we try not to give a list of what you can do. We really try to leave it open so that we can say yes to any good idea as long as it's feasible and within the budget. That's where a lot of the creativity comes in because each neighborhood chooses what's important to them,” Clifton said.
Once a neighborhood group has agreed on a project, the group can apply for a grant on the Neighborhood Improvement Grant Program page on the City of Valparaiso’s website or contact Clifton at (219) 462-1161. The application deadline for the next grant program cycle is March 1, 2023.
Applications are reviewed by a grant review committee, which includes other city departments to determine feasibility.
“Say a neighborhood wants to upgrade its neighborhood park. That means we should talk to the Parks department to get to know their ideas and see how it fits in with the Parks master plan,” Clifton said. “It's a team effort here on the city side, coordinating with different departments to make sure that these projects are ready to hit the ground running when their applications are submitted and working hand in hand with the neighborhood group.”
While improving neighborhoods is a reward in itself, Clifton noted that the relationship established between the city and the neighborhoods involved in the grant program is a great gateway to further communication.
“Seeing the projects come to life is great, but we're also building bridges with the neighborhoods and opening more lines of communication,” Clifton said. “Once neighborhoods become familiar with us, we can get other updates out to them and keep them in the loop on different construction projects or other things that might be going on in their neighborhood.”
For more information about Neighborhood Improvement Grant Program visit https://www.ci.valparaiso.in.us/1636/Neighborhood-Improvement-Grant