Neighborhood Mini-Grants Build Sustainability, Equity, and Resilient Communities

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly          3-13-24

By Sasha Paris

Humans and “the environment” that sustains us are not separate. Environmental damage, economic inequity, and social injustice are interwoven in many ways, and their solutions must be as well. This is the philosophy of Sustainable Finger Lakes, carried out in our work, including our Neighborhood Mini-Grant program.

Since 2008, we have awarded 224 Neighborhood Mini-Grants (NMGs) to individuals, community groups, organizations, and micro-businesses throughout Tompkins County, that are making our communities more sustainable, equitable, and resilient. As much as possible, we strive to fund projects that address multiple problems, such as providing more equal access to resources while reducing environmental impacts:

The Finger Lakes Toy Library, established in 2016-17 with NMG assistance and now flourishing in the Ithaca Mall, reduces the buying and disposal of toys while broadening access to toys and fostering a culture of sharing and social connections.

A stall at the Freeville Farmers’ Market, a now-flourishing market founded in 2016 with support from a Neighborhood Mini-Grant. Photo provided.

Luna Fiber Studio in Trumansburg, founded in 2016 with NMG funding for essential equipment, is a textile studio “specializing in natural dyes and weaving, rooted in sustainability and social justice.” The studio builds local resilience by spreading knowledge of textile creation, and their offerings that included youth courses growing and using indigo – also NMG-funded – and Upcycled Weaving courses on turning old textiles into new ones.

The “Project Abundance” garden beside a sidewalk in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood, built with NMG funding by the Ithaca Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, has offered free vegetables, flowers, and herbs to passerby for the past three years, regularly supplementing some community members’ food supply with hyper-local produce and displaying generosity to all.

Ithaca resident Claire Dehm used an NMG to host free “Women at the Wheel” workshops teaching women and non-binary Tompkins County residents how to fix a flat bicycle tire, making bicycles a more viable and reliable transportation option.

In October 2023, the Dryden Middle/High School Sustainability Club received an NMG to equip their school cafeterias with metal dining utensils, ending the monthly use and disposal of thousands of plastic utensils while saving the school district money and building a youth culture of environmental stewardship.

Our awardees testify to the value of the grants:

“It’s so awesome that there are support systems like this for people like me. They are few and far between but are so important. For me to show that redemption and success is possible will be such an example for a certain demographic that simply does not believe this is possible given the circumstances.” — Ricky Stewart Jr., founder/owner of Jean’s Soul Food Spot 

“We are thrilled to receive the mini-grant, as it will help our neediest students attend online classes. Your program makes a world of difference to us and our students.” — Hilary Boyer, Open Doors English

“This is great news – these funds will help us get this equipment available to those who want to try it before they buy it. This is such an important part of getting people the best mobility device for their successful community participation.” — Lynn Gitlow, Wonderful Wheelchairs

“This seed money will yield great things for West Hill and the future of biking and active transportation.” — Molly Hajjar, Bike Walk Tompkins 

“Every dollar counts toward what we’re doing. It was really wonderful to be able to afford plants and take that weight off our shoulders of having to grow those same plants that would take years to get to the point where we purchased them.” — Brandon Hoak, co-founder of the Marshy Garden project, an ecological restoration and education venue which received funding to expand its native plant collection

“Without that grant, we wouldn’t be here. We probably wouldn’t have gotten the approval from the health department. It just totally legitimized what we are trying to do.” — Yayoi Koizumi of Zero Waste Ithaca, on their Bring Your Own Container promotion project

The Neighborhood Mini-Grant program is supported by the Park Foundation, major longtime donor Craig Riecke, other local donors, and a 2023 gift from NYSEG. We are seeking new business sponsors to sustain the program in Tompkins County while we strive to expand it throughout the Finger Lakes region. Contact if you are interested in becoming a sponsor.

Do you have an idea for making Tompkins County more sustainable, equitable, and resilient? Applications for the next round of Neighborhood Mini-Grants are due April 1. Contact to request an application.

Sasha Paris is the Neighborhood Mini-Grant Coordinator and Office Assistant at Sustainable Finger Lakes.

Signs of Sustainability is organized by Sustainable Finger Lakes.


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