Buena Vista Community, a 36-home ROC in Missoula, Mont., won a $2,000 Better Together Community Grant from ROC USA® that will fund about 80 percent of a community garden and gathering area. Buena Vista, which became resident owned in 2013, has already made considerable improvements. Sharla Lease, who co-wrote the grant application, said the ROC has installed new road signs and streetlights, upgraded the road through the community, trimmed trees and bushes and implemented a maintenance program for common areas.
Most recently, the community has focused on an empty lot that can no longer serve as a home site. Since it generates no income for the ROC, members decided the best use of the space would be as an outdoor community gathering center.
“Since the residents took over ownership, we’ve seen genuine interest expressed in the community as many members want to garden, but don’t have the means to do so on their own lot,” Lease wrote in the grant application, saying that access to fresh produce is especially challenging for the needy families in Buena Vista. “Having a community garden also addresses the problem of limited resident engagement.”
Lease went on to say that community members, both active on the board and not, have signed up for beds in the community garden, and that those without individual space can tend the communal beds and partake in potluck suppers and other community gatherings throughout the season.
“Our goal is to develop a community garden and build community relationships,” wrote Lola Bergseng, the other author of the grant application. “A garden increases access to fresh produce and provides several avenues for community engagement and social events and activities.”
The project is already well under way, with beds built and a tool shed purchased and installed. The grant money will help fund an irrigation system, fence, bonfire pit, picnic table, and perhaps gardening lessons. Buena Vista enlisted the advice of Linda Sprague, who lives in a Maine ROC where she launched a community garden.
The other $2,000 grant winner is Lamprey River Cooperative in Raymond, N.H., which plans to build a school bus shelter for its youngest residents and a new mailbox system in a much safer location than the spot where current mailboxes sit. Like Buena Vista, the project leaders have resident engagement in the front of their minds.
“Many homeowners have expressed interest in volunteering time, materials and effort such as laying the cement pad, providing building materials, and landscaping around the structure,” Brent Norris wrote in the grant application. “Although we have an experienced contractor to oversee the construction, a project that everyone can work on to bring our community together is what we need.”
He went on to say that not only will the project address two major issues of concern, but as an added bonus will add a focal point of beautification to the 18-site community, which is 100-percent owner occupied.
The $2,000 grant will fund more than a third of the project, but according to Tracey Norris, who co-wrote the application, the cost is not necessarily the most important part of the investment in the community.
“Money, although a factor, is not the major concern of the project,” she wrote. “We want our community to appreciate the work that is being done to better our park and that a little bit of volunteerism goes a long way to accomplish this.”
Paul Bradley, president of ROC USA, said the idea for the Better Together Community grants was developed by ROC leaders at the 2011 Community Leadership Institute. NeighborWorks® America provided that CLI class with $4,000 in funding to work on a project. Those leaders designed the Better Together grant program, and ROC USA decided to supply funding for the succeeding years.
“What’s really important in this program is that non-board members are the project leads because that’s how you build future leadership,” Bradley said. “To have the ROC Association Directors judging the applications is just the kind of added community involvement we’re looking for — and, frankly, it relieves our staff of the hard decisions around picking a winner among so many worthy applicants.”
The grant winners were selected by the three Directors of the ROC Association: Colleen Preston, Natividad Seefeld and Liz Wood. The three were elected by the more than 170 resident-owned communities in ROC Association and sit as Directors on the ROC USA board.
Previous winners include Hidden Village in Lacey, Wash., where the funds were used to build a fence around a potentially dangerous storm water retention pond and Meadow Valley in Unadilla, N.Y., where the ROC made significant improvements to the community well system.