On a gloomy October morning, nine of us piled into the E-free Church van (Thank you, Board Member and Grant Committee member Brian Switalski.) for the annual Community Grant Program site visits. The Community Grant Program is a collaborative effort of local funders that increases grantmaking’s effectiveness and grows local nonprofits’ capacity. Collectively, we can make more of an impact on projects and programs. Since 2015, the OCF has administrated this program and serves as a point of contact for nonprofits as they go through the grant application process.  We are proud to partner with Kiwanis Club of Gaylord, United Way of Otsego County, Munson Healthcare Memorial Hospital Foundation, Otsego Wildlife Legacy Society, Rotary Club of Gaylord, Meemic Insurance/The Drzewiecki Agency, and BCBSM Foundation. Grants awarded by these partners, OCF Donor Advised Funds, and the Community Fund of the OCF totaled $161,615.00 in 2023 to meet the needs and advance opportunities in Otsego County.  

Once a year, in October, grantees get the opportunity to show the impact of their grants to interested parties. This year, our group consisted of OCF employees, donors, board members, and grant committee members, each curious to see grant dollars in action and the impact of the grants awarded in March of 2023.  

Headwaters Land Conservancy

  • Our first stop was the Headwaters Conservation District on Whitmarsh Road.  
  • Headwaters Land Conservancy, Inc. (HWLC) applied for a seed grant to fund the Otsego County Nature Preserves Forest Restoration Project. A seed grant funds a new program or project.  HWLC requested $5,000 and was awarded $5,000 to combat invasive species and to restore parts of the forest damaged by the high winds of last year’s tornado.  
  •  This project was funded by the Cwik Holly by Golly Fund*, Conservation Fund*, Funds for the Community*, and Otsego Wildlife Legacy Society.  
  • With these grant dollars, HWLC purchased 10 Hazelnut trees, 25 Dogwood trees, 10 Cranberry Highbush plants, and 50 White Pine trees. All of these plants are native species, and a forester made the decisions on what to purchase. Cages are around saplings currently to protect them from wildlife. To combat the invasive species of honeysuckle and Autumn olive, two backpack sprayers along with Garlon 3 herbicide, which breaks down quickly and poses no danger to the environment, were purchased and used.  

Art in the Alley 

  • Next up, we made our way downtown to Claude Shannon Park. We were greeted by a bright and beautiful mural created by local art students.   
  • This was a collaborative effort between the Gaylord Area Council for the Arts (GACA) and RISE, an organization committed to helping youth stay substance-free. GACA applied for a $83,336.00 seed grant for a public art project to transform a 3-block blighted alleyway between Claude Shannon Park and Gaylord Gateway Trailhead. They were awarded $10,000 by the Lampert Family Fund*, Arts and Culture Fund*, and Funds for the Community*.  
  • Over the twelve weeks it took to create this mural, the students learned not only how to create a work of art of this scale, but they received mentoring and leadership training as part of this program. Each piece in the mural represents one of the artists who helped bring this to life.  
  • GACA used this grant as leverage to apply for a larger grant from outside Otsego County. Grants like this one not only fund a project, but they signal that there is community support for this type of project. This allows a nonprofit to apply for bigger grants, bringing outside dollars into our community so they can expand the project.   
  • They have big plans to continue to beautify downtown Gaylord, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that they will get this additional funding. 

Big North Boomers 

  • By 10:30 a.m., we were inside Big North Barbell to see the start of one of 4 weekly Big North Boomers classes. The enormous gym was buzzing with nearly 30 members, all with different abilities, following trainer Carey’s instructions. 
  • Otsego County Commission on Aging (OCCOA) administers this program and applied for an $11,000 expansion grant, which increases the size and scope of an existing grant.  They received $8,500 from Munson Healthcare OMH and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
  • Anyone age 55 and older can participate in this program for $3 a class, two times a week at that price.   
  • Currently, classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. As the weather gets colder, they will offer classes 4 days a week, so Boomers have more opportunities to get to class.  

Otsego County Fire Board 

  • Our last stop of the day was the Otsego County Fire Department, where we were greeted with cookies and coffee.  
  • The Otsego County Fire Department is a volunteer organization. To improve their training and ensure that firefighters are prepared for rapid entry into an emergency situation, they applied for a $4,615.00 capacity grant to purchase a Firefighter Multi-Force Forcible Entry Door Prop. A capacity grant strengthens nonprofit performance or outcomes such as new strategies, improved processes/efficiencies, or staff development. They received $4,615 from the Jeff and Lynne Smetzer Fund* and Funds for the Community*. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit, the door had not been delivered yet, so we couldn’t see it.  
  • What we did see was a recruitment video and a tent used at events to help with retention and recruitment. They purchased table coverings and materials to educate the public about what it is like to be a volunteer firefighter with a grant from the Community Fund and Lampert Family Fund*.
  • Their efforts have paid off. They graduated the largest class last year, including 4 women. Now, they are a force of 38 firefighters, and their average age is no longer in their 50s.  

*Of the Otsego Community Foundation  

Together, we can do more for the community we love!