The winners of last year’s Love Your Com­munity grants. Left to right are rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Village of North Adams, Hillsdale County Senior Service Center, Hillsdale Family Treatment Court, and Hillsdale Com­munity Library.
(Photo: Facebook)

Over the past two weeks, hun­dreds of Hillsdale County res­i­dents have taken to Facebook to “like” their favorite project for the Hillsdale County Com­munity Foundation’s annual $2,000 grant through the Love Your Com­munity Program

The grant, awarded in April for the third year in a row, sup­ports a project designed to help the com­munity. Eight finalists are cur­rently antic­i­pating the results, with Facebook likes com­prising two thirds of the vote and the HCCF Grant Com­mittee votes com­prising the other third. Com­munity members can vote for their favorite project online until March 31st, and the winner will be announced at a public reception at the HCCF office at 5:30 p.m. on April 13th.

Director of Hillsdale College’s Hillsdale Buddy GOAL Program Elly Guensche said that if her program receives the grant, it would allow college stu­dents to con­tinue their social events for intel­lec­tually dis­abled com­munity members next semester. Members of the Buddy Program organize bowling once a week, in addition to several other events throughout the year, and Guensche said the program pro­vides a relaxed envi­ronment for friend­ships to develop.

“It really helps create bonds between people in the com­munity,” she said.

Jeff Fire­stone, finalist and Pres­ident of Kidz 2 Kidz, an orga­ni­zation that aims to involve kids in their com­munity, pro­posed to build a new park pavilion on the east side of Camden Township. Fire­stone said he thought of the idea after his orga­ni­zation recently hosted a three-on-three bas­ketball tour­nament that was largely dis­rupted by rain and heat. Although the west side of Camden has a pavilion where people often host events during the summer, the east side does not yet have one, and he said the HCCF’s grant would help his orga­ni­zation work toward the $7,000 to $8,000 project.

“I thought it would be an awesome addition to a great town,” Fire­stone said.

Prin­cipal of Jonesville Middle School Bryan Playford, who is also pres­ident of the Jonesville Rotary Club, pro­posed a Jonesville beau­ti­fi­cation project. Stu­dents from Jonesville High School and Middle School would work with Rotarians to build benches, picnic tables, bird feeders/houses, and Little Free Libraries, as well as enhance the Rail Trail, St. Joseph River, city parks, and other public areas with rest areas and wildlife viewing oppor­tu­nities. Playford said the project is both focused on rotary service, and also on con­necting senior members in the rotary club with younger members of the com­munity.

“The true benefit we’re looking at is helping develop young people who want to give back to the com­munity,” Playford said. “We want to get our kids thinking about service, but, then, the other benefit is to the com­munity as well with the par­ticular projects.”

Finalist Brad Benzing pro­posed building a Little Free Library in Wood­bridge Township, where readers could exchange books for free. Benzing said the nearest local libraries are eight miles away, and he said he wants to provide access to books for those who do not have a vehicle or cannot access a library during its open hours. In the library he also plans to include card­stock book­marks with infor­mation on local libraries. Benzing said he pro­posed the idea because reading is very important to his family and he wants to increase awareness for others.

HCCF Director of Com­munity Engagement Amber Yoder said that over the past two years the foun­dation has also awarded smaller grants to three other finalists. A clear and achievable plan are two things the com­mittee will look for when con­sid­ering the current eight finalists.