A new Community LIFT Empowerment Fund looks to lift up small, neighborhood projects

Community LIFT has started an Empowerment Fund to drive neighborhood-based projects. The small-grant endowment will invest up to $2,500 per endeavor.

The community development corporation’s fund will provide support and financial assistance to individuals, residents or small grassroots organizations. The projects, meanwhile, will fall in the categories of people-based, economics, grassroots organizing and physical space – like a pocket park.

You can find an example of one of these small, public spaces near Danny Thomas and Crump.  It was completed a few months back. Built by the employees at ServiceMaster, the work was done in a day.

The park sits in front of the Greater White Stone Missionary Baptist Church at 917 S Wellington St.  With a mural painted on the side of an adjacent abandoned building, it’s easy to spot.

When LIFT was researching projects, short timeframes, little sweat equity and a need of few supplies were prerequisites. A pocket park is a good example of a project that meets those criteria.

Community health fairs, pop-up shops, or designating a street or block as a historic preservation site, are examples of the other three categories, respectively.

“These are the types of projects people are taking on in their communities but may not have the financial assistance needed and are spending money out of their pocket,” said Nefertiti Orrin, Grants Director for Community LIFT.

The funding intermediary for local CDCs hopes the fund will also help connect people with other resources. Many projects require more than the fund’s limit. A partnership with ioby has helped many bridge financial shortfalls. The online crowdfunding platform has funded 203 projects since 2014.

“We want people to think about how they can leverage funds to be awarded from Community LIFT to secure more funding – say you have a $4,000 project – how can you raise the difference for your project,” said Orrin.

LIFT’s Empowerment fund will work with their CDC Capacity Fund. The latter promotes the expansion of community development corporations’ organizational capacity. After all, a neighborhood organization is only effective if it receives participation from the community it serves.

“At the core of our work, we hope to advance Memphis by securing funding and connections and networks that help to empower residents and grow community development corporations (CDCs),” said Orrin. “CDCs work tirelessly to help improve neighborhoods and they are often under-resourced and under-funded,” said Orrin.

The Soulsville Neighborhood Association is interested in applying for the grant. They have several project opportunities that could use a boost of funding.

One of them is a “Light Up Soulsville” initiative where residents who have a light or electric  pole on their property would be invited to have a light installed for them by MLGW – especially to help illuminate dark, vacant lots next to houses.

“This is something MLGW does as a service. If you have a pole in your yard, MLGW will put a light on the pole for you at a nominal fee and adds a small $6 to $7 monthly charge to your utility bill. It helps light up vacant lots and we have a lot of vacant lots in Soulsville,” said Rebecca Hutchinson, member of Soulsville Neighborhood Association.

Another area of interest for residents is the rock garden project next to the “I Love Soulsville” mural at E. McLemore Ave. and Mississippi Blvd. Currently, they have an ioby project open to raise funds to buy plants for the rock garden. But they also need funds to spruce up the mural, which is showing wear and tear, and to continue beautification of the rock garden.

Hutchinson says there are so many needs in the neighborhood and things they would want to apply those funds to in Soulsville.

“They are small projects – low cost, short term – so those funds would really help to leverage other funds we have already received and be invaluable in helping build on the momentum of what we have already started in Soulsville,” said Hutchinson.

The fund will be awarded annually. This year, $75,000 was donated from the Hyde Family Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.

“We see the Empowerment Fund working hand-in-hand with our CDC Capacity Fund. At the same time, we are helping to build up CDCs, we also want to empower residents to be part of the process and work alongside each other to improve their community,” said Orrin.

The application process is open until Aug. 24. Applicants should show evidence of support from residents or the community. A pre-application rundown is required. Awards will be announced on Aug. 31.

Non-recipients will also be notified too. They will be informed why they didn’t receive a grant. That way, adjustments can be made to proposals and pitched again next year.

“Our philosophy is transparent grant-making. We want to make sure we are giving our applicants feedback so they can continue to refine their application for the next go-round,” said Orrin.

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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.