BENNINGTON >> The Bennington Idea Fund is seeking projects that could benefit from "microgrants" — seed money available for local businesses, entrepreneurs, organizations and individuals whose applications are accepted.
Anyone with an idea, looking to learn more or start a grant application is invited to the Lightning Jar co-working space at 194 North St., Bennington this Friday between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
The year-old group's goal is to empower people to alleviate poverty through a community-focussed effort, one that asks for "people from all walks of life to come forward with ideas," according to Mickey McGlasson, project support coordinator.
"That's the sort of effort that might have a chance to make a real difference in poverty, social issues and economic issues in the community, which are inherently linked," McGlasson told the Banner Wednesday.
Several team members will be on hand Friday to assist businesses or individuals, referred to as "idea generators," with brainstorming potential projects, fine-tuning ideas and even starting the official application process.
"The best way for us to spread the message is to talk face to face," McGlasson said. "We find that's when people are most willing to brainstorm ideas."
McGlasson said the idea came from resident Dimitri Garder of Global-Z International, who a few years ago began exploring a local grant or loan program that could support people in the community. Several incarnations later, the Bennington Idea Fund was born.
The nonprofit distributed about $12,000 in its first round of grants this fall. One project was the Seedlings after-school program at Bennington Elementary School, which helps children in poverty through tutoring, creative projects and practicing appropriate behaviors. It's since expanded to Molly Stark Elementary School.
To fund the next round of grant applications, which are accepted on a rolling basis, the nonprofit raised $25,000 from: Abacus Automation, the Bank of Bennington, Global-Z International, Plasan North America and Southwestern Vermont Health Care.
The nonprofit has no overhead and no paid staff, meaning all of the money goes to funding projects, McGlasson said. He runs the group with Garder, the fundraising coordinator, and three Americorps VISTA members: Nevin Lessard, Michelle Marrocco and Rory Price.
McGlasson works at the Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC). The nonprofit is an effort independent from the BCRC.
Each application to the Bennington Idea Fund must demonstrate it will benefit people in need, have a measurable impact and bring about sustainable change.
Once an application is submitted, it's reviewed by the group's steering committee. Members are appointed by the investors for terms up to three years and represent fields of business, education, social services and nonprofits.
Marrocco and the other VISTAS contribute by talking to community members, encouraging them to apply and helping them with the grant application.
For the Dracut, Mass., native and North Adams, Mass., resident, that one-on-one contact is key.
"People have cool ideas that could work, but you need to tell them, 'Hey, this could really work,'" Marrocco said. There can sometimes be cynicism in towns that are struggling or among populations that feel ignored.
"But to give someone that chance to complete something and to make a difference, that's empowering," she said.
Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979