An enthusiastic City Council unanimously approved a resolution Nov. 20 to recognize the efforts of OneCranston Health Equity Zone at CCAP for their work on the annual “Community Builders …
An enthusiastic City Council unanimously approved a resolution Nov. 20 to recognize the efforts of OneCranston Health Equity Zone at CCAP for their work on the annual “Community Builders Grant.”
The Community Builders Grant program provides small grants for local community members throughout Cranston who want to make their community better. These are usually in small, personal ways that don’t require thousands and thousands of dollars of funding. The program has been around since before OneCranston and Health Equity Zone merged in 2017, but this marks the first time it has been formally recognized by the Council as a vital function.
Councilwoman Aniece Germain said, “Having this to bring the community together, that’s priceless. I know we can work together to continue to bring the community together. I am always in support of that.”
The resolution was sponsored by Councilman Ferri, a member of the Community Connectors board at CCAP. During open session, he said “The thing I like the most about being a community connector and helping HEZ is you’re surrounded by people trying to help other people.”
This year’s grant program gels particularly with the City Council, and may be part of the reason the program received this recognition. The organizers of the Community Builders Grant are hoping to fund one project in each of Cranston’s six wards.
This year, should they receive enough applicants, CCAP will award $300 to one project in each ward of the city. These projects will be designed to bring neighbors together, and strengthen neighborhoods.
“Cranston is a very neighborhood driven city,” Project Director for HEZ Ivy Swinski says. “So it’s really about creating spaces where communities can gather and whether that community is physically together, or a community that’s built, it’s about being able to foster connections between Cranston residents with each other.”
Swinski is the staff member connected with the community connectors board at CCAP, which is responsible for choosing and working with grant recipients in the Community Builders program. It was the community connectors board which decided on Elena Rios to be a recipient of one of last years’ grants.
Rios, who was named a 2024 Emerging Leader by the American Library Association, is a youth services librarian at Cranston Public Library, and someone who grew up on the east side of Cranston. She also leads a book club for adults at HEZ’s Huddle Center. She first thought to apply for the grant after being approached by Principal Erica DiPietro of Stadium Elementary with a proposition.
“She said that she heard that there was a librarian here who was a brown person such as myself,” Rios said. “And she wanted to basically have someone give her kids an affirmational speech because they were being taken out of school and then not ever returning. So she wants to let them know that they are important, and that the greatest thing you can dream of is education. And then she thought that might best be iterated by someone who looked like them.”
While contemplating how best to go about this task, she kept running against a problem. “I always say kids deserve the world,” she said. “It's easy to tell them that. But it's having that message really stick with them.”
Rios thought back to a program she had been a part of when she was an elementary school student in Cranston. Rios had been part of a Junior Achievement program, at the end of which she was gifted a yellow and green eraser which she still has. It’s been an object reminder for her of all she can accomplish when she believes in herself.
“So carrying that message with me, I thought, How great would if be if I just brought that to them? It didn't have to be a branded eraser. But if I could bring them books and erasers and bracelets, just for them to keep, because you know, it's that kind of connection of like, I remember getting this bracelet when that librarian came to talk to me about that message of I am important.”
Rios applied for a grant through Community Builders, and was able to bring loads of goodies to her speech. Every student in attendance walked away with an eraser at least.
The City Council’s resolution to recognize the Community Builders grant was not necessary for the function of the program. They neither needed permission, nor funding. But the validation they received in the eyes of Cranstonians, and the press, will hopefully help get more Cranstonians interested in applying for the grant. City councilors also spoke of the possibility of matching funding for future projects. CCAP funds the community builders grant through the Rhode Island Department of Health.
It’s still too soon to say how additional funding would change the program.
“We haven't fully typed out in a group how that would impact it,” Swinski says. “Whether that would mean we get more grants that are still at that $300 cap, whether that means we can raise our cap, give the same number of grants, but maybe we could give out $600 per grant rather than $300.”
Regardless of specifics, it’s good to be recognized. “It’s really exciting,” Swinski says. “Because it shows that the City of Cranston values what their residents are doing.”
Applications for the Community Builders Grant will be open until Friday, March 1, 2024. To apply, contact JB at email@example.com or 401-208-3487.
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