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Posted April 11, 2017 | 4:16 PM

Mini-Grants Up for Grabs

From benches to butterfly gardens, County supports community-building efforts

Hillsborough County this year will award "mini-grants" totaling $96,000 for projects to improve and strengthen neighborhoods.

The funds are used to paint buildings, install benches, and erect signs in communities throughout the County, including its three cities. Neighborhood associations and other groups recently sought money for duck and bat houses, a butterfly garden, and a rack for storing residents' kayaks, among other requests.

Neighborhood Relations is accepting mini-grant requests until 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 4. Get details on how to apply.

Applicants are encouraged to be creative and original. What does their neighborhood need that would make a positive difference?

It's not just about physical enhancements. The program's goal is to bring neighbors together and to bolster community pride. A Halloween-themed party helped unite a working-class subdivision near the Florida State Fairgrounds. And mini-grant money allocated by Hillsborough County Neighborhood Relations is used to host community events, establish neighborhood watch programs, and train neighborhood leaders to be more effective.

There are about 9,000 neighborhoods in unincorporated Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace, and Plant City. Some 1,000 of them are registered with Neighborhood Relations, and thus are eligible to apply for mini-grants. The program began in 1988, and funds are allocated to it by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners.

A County mini-grant and funds from the Children's Board of Hillsborough County paid for the Sugarcreek and Buffalo Estates neighborhoods' "Trail of Treats" event in October 2015. About 250 children and adults attended the gathering, conceived as a safe alternative to door-to-door trick-or-treating.

Kizuwanda Everett, liaison for the neighborhoods' association, says the party was a great success. There were games, candy, face-painting, and lots of food - hot dogs, popcorn, and cupcakes. With permission, residents blocked off a stretch of road for the event. Everyone had fun and got to know each other. Some people who have lived in the area for decades spoke with neighbors on the next road, or even across the street, for the first time.

That's the idea behind the mini-grants program: bring together neighbors for the betterment of the community.

Want more information? Call Neighborhood Relations at (813) 272-5860.

Photo Information: The Sugarcreek and Buffalo Estates neighborhoods used mini-grant funds to help stage a Halloween-themed gathering.