Vibrant Neighborhoods is our latest initiative to inspire Elkhart County residents to love where they live. We’re excited to work with neighborhoods of all sizes in Elkhart County to make life in your community that much better.

Here’s some of what you need to know before you get started on a micro-grant request:

What is a neighborhood?

A neighborhood is an area where people live. Neighborhoods are social communities and residents frequently interact with one another. They are the settings and situations where neighbors seek to realize common values, socialize their kids, and maintain effective social control. Residents generally have similar types of families, incomes, and social characteristics such as education level, housing preference, and sense of public order.

Neighborhoods tend to have their own identity. There is often a “feel” to them that is based on the people who live there and the places that are part of the neighborhood.

Neighborhoods often have fuzzy geographical boundaries and it can be difficult to tell where one starts and another ends. Major streets often act as boundaries, but people usually define a neighborhood by its characteristics. Neighborhoods can include schools, churches, restaurants, stores, and parks.

Neighborhoods are usually mentioned in terms of big cities, but suburban or rural areas also have neighborhoods. Suburban neighborhoods tend to have larger homes and more families than urban neighborhoods. Rural neighborhoods tend to be further spread out made up of fewer households.

How big is a neighborhood?

Neighborhoods vary in total size and the number of households. Some of the neighborhoods in Elkhart County with recognized associations can have a couple of hundred households; others, often in more rural areas, can be made up of just a handful of households.

For the purpose of the Vibrant Neighborhoods program, we are focusing on a more intimate group of homes. It can be as few as five or six in rural areas near towns like Wakarusa or Millersburg. It can be a single block with as many as 25 households in a more established part of the city of Elkhart.

Those who are involved in pursuing a Vibrant Neighborhood can establish the size and boundaries for their own neighborhood.

Is a formal recognition of the neighborhood necessary to sign up?

There is no need to have a formal, registered neighborhood association to receive a grant for Vibrant Neighborhood-related projects. Any group of neighbors can get together and make a commitment to become a Vibrant Neighborhood.

Does a project have to permanently improve the look of a neighborhood?

Although that might be nice, it is not a requirement of the program. Clean-up days will make a neighborhood look nicer, but the effects are shorter term. One group is putting pots of flowers on each porch or steps in the spring. That will be nice, but will not be permanent.

What does the review process look like? How will money be granted?

A committee of volunteers will review each application. If the application is consistent with the criteria, the grant will be awarded. A check will be sent to the neighborhood’s liaison. If the application needs additional work, a representative of the committee will provide feedback and recommendations.

Who will handle the money? Is a bank account needed to receive this money?

The neighborhood’s designated liaison will be sent a check in care of the address provided. There is no need to have a special account for the funds.

Do receipts need to be kept showing proof of how money was used?

We do not require a detailed accounting of how funds were spent. Receipts for expenses do not need to be provided.

Do the neighborhoods have to complete a report?

We do want each group to share their experiences. That will help us tell others about good things that are happening and make adjustments to the program if we need to. We will ask each group to complete a brief summary of their experience with pictures and comments. We will provide instructions and guidelines for the report.

Can a neighborhood apply for more than one grant at a time?

No, but if the neighborhood has 30 households or so, it might consider splitting into two groups. They can do similar activities and share resources.

Is a neighborhood allowed just one grant?

As we said, only one grant per neighborhood at a time. However, if a neighborhood has fulfilled all of its obligations and spent the money for a first grant, it can apply for a second Vibrant Neighborhood grant. This can be done no sooner that one year after the first grant was awarded. A final report for the first grant must be submitted and a new application made.

When can neighborhood project leaders expect to hear from Vibrant Communities?

Vibrant Communities will follow up with the neighborhood liaison three times. The first time shortly after a decision was made about the grant request. The second time will be approximately six weeks after the check for funds has been sent to the neighborhood leader. The final time will be between three and four months after that. These will be brief phone calls to see how things are going and if any assistance might be needed. Of course, neighborhood groups can always reach out and ask for help from Vibrant Communities.

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