Citizens Committee helps grassroots groups apply for grants

The room was brimming with all sorts of ideas when Andre Mozeak, the community outreach coordinator for the non-profit organization Citizens Committee for New York City, conducted a workshop on Sunday afternoon to teach Brooklyn residents how to apply for grants to get their neighborhood improvement projects off the ground.

Nearly two dozen people came to the Il Centro Italian Community Center on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst on Jan. 13 and listened as Mozeak patiently walked them through the process of filling out the application form so that they can submit it on time to meet the Citizens Committee’s Jan. 21 deadline for its Neighborhood Grants program.

The idea, Mozeak said, is to find an area in your neighborhood that needs attention and develop a project to address that need. “You must communicate the need and urgency of your project” on the grant application, he said.

Each year, the Citizens Committee awards Neighborhood Grants of up to $3,000 to grass-roots groups around the city to fund projects ranging from community gardens to health fairs to tenant organizing forums. The grant winners are announced in May.

Jacob Goldfinger, a writer from Bay Ridge, said he is considering organizing a project aimed at encouraging 16 and 17-year-olds to become engaged in politics and voting. Since teenagers are known to play a lot of video games, his project would be centered on the use of gaming techniques, he said. “It’s a good way to get their attention,” he told this newspaper.

Another Bay Ridge resident, Teri Brennan, is hoping to organize an environmental project to save butterflies and came to the workshop to learn how to get started. Her idea involves a community outreach effort to encourage local residents “to be cognizant of what plants they plant in their gardens,” she explained. Caterpillars can’t eat certain types of plants, she said.

While saving the world’s population of beautiful, delicate butterflies seems like a daunting task, Brennan, a photographer, said she is hoping her community-based project can show that “there are things an individual can do.”

Two friends from Bensonhurst, Eileen LaRuffa and Lorraine Mazzola, said they came to the workshop to learn more about the types of projects that win the Citizens Committee’s approval.

The workshop was sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat representing a swathe of Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Marine Park and Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat whose district encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst.

Gounardes, who worked for the Citizens Committee several years ago, said he was impressed by the turnout at the workshop and by the ideas the participants were proposing.

The purpose of the workshop is to empower residents, he said. “We’re trying to encourage people to take ownership of their community,” he told this newspaper.

In the past, the Citizens Committee has awarded small grants to the group Bay Ridge Cares, the Bay Ridge Food Co-Op and an organization whose members planted a garden outside P.S. 102 in Bay Ridge, Gounardes said.

The grant application is simple, according to Mozeak, who said one does not have to have experience writing grant proposals in order to fill it out.

But he cautioned that the Neighborhood Grant program is open to groups, not individuals.

The application asks for information about the group and its members, the proposed project, the project’s budget, and how the group plans to engage the community in the project. Applicants are also asked to submit a timeline for completion of the project.

A key piece of advice from Mozeak: Tell the truth. The Citizens Committee does its homework, researching every group that submits an application to make sure it is legitimate. “We also want to make sure the group is local and that groups aren’t parachuting into a neighborhood,” he said.

The grant application process is not a competitive process, Mozeak said. “Citizens Committee does not pit applications against each other,” he said, adding that approximately 40 percent of the applications are approved for grants.

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