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.