Creativity blooms in Northeast Alabama

Community foundation accepting grant applications for 18 Sacred Places that will take shape this year

Seven hundred miles from the site of the first TKF Sacred Place, a new network of 18 – spread across nine counties in Northeast Alabama – will begin appearing later this year. The spaces, supported by a health fund established close to a century ago, represent a modern interpretation of what it means to foster the health of a community.

This is the first instance of the TKF concept for creating healing greenspaces being picked up and used as a pattern to create a whole network of new spaces at once.

Fred Smith, Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama

The program’s director, Fred Smith, of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, is managing the grant process, which was announced in early fall of 2017. He and the president & CEO, Jennifer Maddox, saw the creation of a network of community greenspaces as an opportunity both to celebrate the legacy of Susie Parker Stringfellow, the woman who made the original bequest in 1920 for what would become the Stringfellow Health Funds Grant, and to incorporate a more holistic approach into their work that focuses on fostering community health.

“These greenspaces will function as places where our communities can enter, reflect — and that will encourage good health, wellbeing,” said Smith.

Specifically, the foundation will award $180,000 total; funding two Sacred Places in each of the nine counties it serves. Each space should have a Firesoul, and incorporate the four elements of a Sacred Place: a portal, path, destination and surround.

This project, according to Smith, is being received with a great deal of enthusiasm throughout the nine counties. And thanks to some innovative thinking on his part, the number and variety of applications they are seeing, is greater than they could have expected had they not employed some key, new changes.

Historically, the foundation has limited the funding it grants to 501c3s. But in an experimental turn, an attempt to evoke involvement from new players and to truly partner with members of the community, the foundation decided to scrap that criterium.

And then, they went a step further.

“We decided to change our grant process as well,” explains Smith. “We usually have a pre-application phase – and there’s a certain amount of paperwork that we ask for. But for this project, we revisited the application process as well – constructing it to be more inclusive for the folks not used to filling out grant applications.”

And to make sure word of the grant makes its way to every corner of the nine counties, Smith embarked on a junket of sorts – visiting chambers of commerce and all kinds of community groups, presenting the idea and process.

“What we’ve been trying to tell everyone is to have fun; be creative – and to use this as an opportunity to bring the community together and look at the value it will add to the community.”

And the community response has been enthusiastic.

Opening up the funding in this way is triggering all kinds of new partnerships. Smith pointed to one recent application, in particular, that is a perfect example of the kind of unconventional pairings they are seeing.

“One applicant has a vegetarian cafe that focuses on serving fresh, nutritious food; all of the employees are intellectually challenged; they come through a local special ed high school program. The cafe has been tremendously popular in the county. And the students who’ve worked there are improving. The cafe has partnered with the library; which has a vacant space they’ve identified as a potential Sacred Place,” said Smith. Together, they have submitted a proposal.

With the deadline for applications just a couple of weeks away, Smith says proposals continue to land on his desk at a rate of a few a week. And what he’s seeing, in his words, is “tremendous”.

“I can’t wait to see where this leads,” said Smith.

Learn more about the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama’s Open Spaces Sacred Places grants.

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