Now in its 41st year, Branford Community Foundation's (BCF) support continues to strengthen this community with its latest awards of annual competitive grants totaling $93,732.56 given to 18 local organizations. Residents who may have lived in town for four decades or four months will likely now recognize the BCF name, thanks in large part to the incredible work this non-profit organization did to establish a COVID-19 Response Fund in March 2020 which quickly raised and distributed over $202,000 back into Branford by year's end.
"Last year was like drinking from a fire hydrant," said BCF Executive Director Liza Petra. "Typically, we award grants once a year. We were doing it every other week. Every time we were getting money in, we just tried to get it out as stop-gap funding. But at the end of the day, we did it well. The board really stepped up. They were so engaged, and they helped raise all this money. It was just a remarkable experience."
So remarkable, in fact, that Guilford Savings Bank, which had supported BCF's COVID-19 Response Fund with a grant of $25,000, contacted BCF to notify the board that GSB would continue to support the foundation's grant-giving work by donating $25,000 to BCF's be competitive grants program.
"To have the Guilford Savings Bank say, again, to invest their money in the community for them, because they recognize the board did such a good job, was amazing," said Petra.
In addition, having just completed its four-year commitment to provide $25,000 annually to the Blackstone Library Board of Trustees library renovation fund, BCF was able to re-direct the funding back to its competitive grant programs beginning this year. Growth of BCF's carefully managed endowment funds also assisted in providing support to this year's grant awards, said Petra.
"Due to a large gift from Guilford Savings Bank, endowment growth, and the conclusion of a multi-year grant to the Blackstone, our budget more than doubled to $114,000," said Petra.
In 2020, BCF awarded $64,000 in competitive grants.
The experience of awarding COVID-19 Response Fund grants was still resonating with all-volunteer BCF board and the members of its Community Investment Committee. The group of six board and community members met weekly during March and April, reviewing 26 annual competitive grant applications totaling $152,000 in requests from community organizations. It did so while facing some still-unknowns with regard to the pandemic and the possibility of some of the applicants potentially receiving additional funding from pending federal and state COVID-19 aid programs, said committee chair Rita Berkson.
"All the applications were intensively reviewed by our Community Investment Committee," said Berkson. "We adopted a set of funding priorities, and identified the uncertainties of forthcoming federal and state funding. The committee worked thoughtfully and collaboratively to ensure that we provide funding with deep impact for the Branford community, especially for the benefit of those affected by the pandemic."
Petra said the Berkson and the committee worked hard, made difficult decisions and gave extensive consideration given to each application.
"The Community Investment Committee really honed their values and guiding principles to make sure these grants were assisting those hardest hit by COVID pandemic and to prioritize areas including basic needs and mental health services -- and that, for us, also included those organizations that bring joy to our community," said Petra. "We also knew that supporting youth services was critical, and we also wanted to set some funding aside for the unknown."
As a result, $20,000 of the $114,000 was reserved for possible emergent needs during the rest of the year; while nearly $94,000 in grants will be provided to 18 local non-profit organizations.
"The funding will support a range of projects, including mental health services for children and families; meals for residents who are food-insecure; a COVID vaccination clinic; housing for homeless Branford residents; affordable summer camp for Branford children and teenagers," said Berkson.
The recipients are: Orchard House Medical Adult Day Center, $3,900; Neighborhood Music School, $2,500; Community Dining Room, $10,632,56; Feed Branford Kids, $10,000; Clifford W. Beers Guidance, $5,000; Read to Grow, $2,500; Financial Assistance to Branford Youth for YMCA-Camp Hazen, $2,000; Camp Totokett, $8,000; Expressions in Art Collaborative high school student workshops, $1,500; Branford Compassion Club Neuter & Spay program, $700; Legacy Theatre Covid Control, Prevention and Safety, $5,000; Shoreline Chamber of Commerce, $5,500; Special Olympics CT- Central Shoreline, $1,000; New Reach for Branford Homeless, $5,000; Nat and Jack Farrel House, $3,000; Women and Family Life Center, $20,000; CT Hospice COVID Vaccine Clinics, $2,500, Literacy Volunteers, $5,000.
BCF board chair Heather Hackley praised the Community Investment Committee for working tirelessly to ascertain that all grant awards are impactful to the community while aligning with donor intent.
"The selection process is quite competitive, but all requests we received were carefully considered," said Hackley. "This year, we prioritized requests that would address basic needs such as food and shelter to those hardest hit by COVID-19 and we always try and provide support to programs that enhance the quality of life in the Branford Community."