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Grant application experience provides valuable lesson

Arguably one of the most important steps in revitalizing a community is obtaining the resources to do so. A very important resource in this process is money.

It is for this reason that many organizations give grants in order to help kick start initiatives for a particular purpose. This is a process that I have never had the opportunity to witness until this past week.

In order to revitalize the downtown area of Elba, the nonprofit organization Restoration154 has committed to bringing back the Elba Theatre.

Justin Maddox of Restoration154 said he believes the theatre project is important to their town for multiple reasons. He explained, "When you're on the square and you see a theatre lit up with activity you are more likely to be drawn to the downtown area, whether that be as a potential citizen of Elba or as a potential business owner."

Maddox also emphasized the value of community involvement the project could spark.  He said the theatre will provide space for people to interact. “The Elba Theatre will be another reason to gather and another type of experience to get, which builds community," he said.

In order to raise funds for the Elba Theatre, Restoration 154 is applying for a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts whose mission is to "enhance the quality of life and economic vitality for all Alabamians by providing support for the state’s diverse and rich artistic resources."

I was lucky enough to be able to observe the grant application presentation process recently.

The Restoration 154 representative who gave the presentation was Laurie Chapman. Chapman is dedicated to the Elba Theatre project, as well as other projects to revitalize Elba. The Tuesday evening before the day of the presentation, Chapman stayed up late creating poster boards to enhance her presentation.

She chose to use two of her favorite design models for the theatre, recently created by Auburn University interior architecture students, in her presentation.

On Wednesday morning, Chapman and I began the hour and a half drive from Elba to Montgomery. On the way to the presentation, Chapman reviewed all of the information for the presentation. Although she has successfully applied for grants in the past, this was the first one that required a presentation.

Once we arrived at our destination, Chapman gathered her visual aids. We then walked to the RSA tower where the Alabama State Council on the Arts is located. As we walked toward the towering building, I could see that Chapman had a determined expression.

We were escorted to the room where Chapman would be presenting.  Board members of the Alabama State Council on the Arts sat around a giant, rectangular table.

Chapman was only given five minutes to convince them of the importance of the mission to revitalize the Elba Theatre. She focused on convincing the board of the sustainability and community support for the project. The board members seemed to be pleased with her presentation and the added effort she made in creating and obtaining the visual aids. At the end of her presentation, one of the board members even followed her out to congratulate her on her efforts.

As we exited the building, Chapman and I were both grinning from ear to ear with excitement.

Personally, I learned a lot from my experience in observing the grant presentation. I learned that behind every great community project are passionate citizens who work hard to achieve their goals in hopes that their fellow citizens will have the opportunity to improve their community.

If they are awarded the grant, Restoration 154 will be able to take another step toward bringing new life to this historic theatre.

Tags: Elba

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