Grants target kids, firms

August 25, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

Child health and high-tech entrepreneurship were among areas targeted Tuesday in The Harvest Foundation"s fifth round of grants.

The foundation awarded six grants worth a total of $1.17 million. The two largest grants were:

? $455,000 to the Chamber"s Partner for Economic Growth (C-PEG) to start a Martinsville-Henry County Business Technology Center to help existing and future high-tech companies grow their businesses, and

? $296,289 to be divided among the Boys and Girls Club of Martinsville and Henry County, Virginia Commonwealth University and Rural Health Consultants to launch the Healthy Community Initiative for after-school programs to promote physical activity and good nutrition among youths.

The grant also would support the Partnership For Access and Service Expansion Program to develop a plan to serve uninsured and medically needy.

Harvest Foundation Executive Director Harry Cerino said the business technology center will promote the creation of high-tech industries in the area over a four-year period. A staff member will be hired to work with students from Virginia Tech, Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and Averett University and "match them up with folks wanting to launch high-tech businesses," he said.

"It"s an inexpensive way for students to learn something with real-world, hands-on experience and be able to contribute to help launch businesses in the community," he said.

Also in Wednesday"s round of grants, the Henry County Department of Public Safety-Henry County/Martinsville High School Firefighter Program received $135,165 to train local youths as firefighters, who the departments will then try to recruit. This is similar to an emergency medical services (EMS) program set up in the schools, Cerino said.

Also, the West Piedmont Business Development Center in uptown Martinsville received $91,250 to continue the micro-enterprise revolving loan fund and a marketing effort.

West Piedmont Executive Director Lisa Fultz said the loan fund is used by incubator tenants to start businesses, enabling them to buy equipment and providing for working capital and other expenses.

"Most of the people interested in the micro-enterprise loan program, perhaps a traditional lending institution wouldn"t even look at their loan application and take it seriously" because of the small amount of the loan or because some lenders do not work with startups, she said.

The center initially had $40,000 in the fund, provided by The Harvest Foundation, which it used for three grants, Fultz said. The $91,250 will cover the program and marketing of the incubator or the loan program for two years, she added.

The incubator has 10 tenants plus the institute working on establishing a Southside university, Fultz said. It also has five small spaces for rent and Fultz said she is working to create more of those.

The foundation awarded a further $20,000 to C-PEG for a challenge grant, pending a $5,000 contribution from the Henry County School System and a $5,000 contribution from the Martinsville School System, to continue working on issues related to the merger of county and city schools.

Also, Piedmont Arts Association received $20,251 to expand its "Treasure Chests" program.

"Treasure chests" are self-contained units that teachers can sign out and integrate into their course work, said Toy Cobbe, PAA executive director. For example, the Egypt treasure chest has videos, replicas of statues that might be in tombs, mummies, art and other "hands-on" items.

The association also has chests for China, Japan, Australia, Mexico and Shakespeare, which teachers can use to integrate art into their curriculum without having to do their own research, she said.

PAA will use the grant to make DVDs. The first project will be to develop DVDs of the staff teaching the material that is in the treasure chest so that if a chest is signed out, a teacher can use the video, Cobbe said.

"We see this technology grant as an opening ability to serve the education outreach much more effectively," she added. "The grant is allowing us to buy technology that we would be hard-pressed to buy on our own."

Wednesday"s grants marked the end of the first year of foundation grants. It awarded about $2.5 million in August 2003, $1.3 million in December, $1.7 million in February and $5.8 million in May.

"We"re actually a little bit ahead of where I thought we would be in approving grants," Cerino said. "That happened as a result of some of the larger proposals," including $2.4 million for the new Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., $2.4 million for initiatives for area schools and other projects. "We"re still very new, but even after a year, I think some of the grants we"ve made are already accomplishing our goals," including getting money into the community.

For instance, he pointed to a $250,000 challenge grant to the Adult Day Care Center, which he said is helping it raise $1 million for a new building; education initiatives with the Virginia Museum of Natural History and PAA; and two grants for Gateway StreetScape Foundation, one of which enabled it to build a greenhouse.

Cerino also said one of the functions of the foundation is providing for public policy research and development, which is why it helped C-PEG fund the Market Street Study of the area"s economy and strategies for the future.

"Everybody, including myself, is very impatient in wishing to see things in place," he said. "I"ve been in town a little more than a year, and personally, there is more of a 'can-do' positive attitude (now). I don"t know if the foundation can take credit for all of that, but it can for some of it."



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