SCHENECTADY -- “I don’t know how you feel, but I’m feeling this great momentum in the city. Do you feel that? Do you see it?”
Robert Carreau, executive director of the Schenectady Foundation, asked this of the nearly 100 people who came to the Electric City Barn on Tuesday night.
They were there to hear about the details of the newly revealed Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge. It’s a challenge that is meant to help improve neighborhoods through projects developed by the residents who live in them.
And there is up to $250,000 available to fund them.
“For me, though, some of the truly inspiring achievements, and for the Schenectady Foundation, have come from the people in the community who had an idea,” Carreau said. “And they had the passion and the drive to pull the idea together and gather other people around them to make it happen.”
Carreau said the foundation was looking for a way to build off of that momentum. And that’s where the idea for the neighborhood challenge came in.
It was launched with $100,000 each from both the foundation and funding that was awarded through the city’s Community Development Block Grant funding, which the city receives through the federal Housing and Urban Development.
The allocation of that funding was approved by the City Council in July.
Mayor Gary McCarthy opened up the event on Tuesday and mentioned the city provided some of the funding to jumpstart the project. He then implored the public to try and come up with their best ideas for project, even if there were ones that don’t require money.
“I ask people to be open-minded and approach things maybe a little different,” McCarthy said. “And challenge yourselves to think of things maybe you haven’t thought were possible before.”
The rest of the funding for the challenge was gathered from various private investors. Those investors include The Carlilian Foundation, Neil and Jane Golub, the Wright Family Foundation, MVP Healthcare and Trustco Bank.
Carreau went through some of the details about how the challenge will play out.
Residents from different neighborhoods will be able to apply for the funding by going to the Schenectady Foundation’s website -- schenectadyfoundation.org -- and fill out the form there.
The different types of projects that could be funded include beautification, environmental, public safety, health and well-being, community building and citizen engagement, accessibility, public art, and any other projects residents can think of.
“It’s a broad landscape of what we’re willing to look at here,” Carreau said, adding they are also looking to fund at least one youth-driven project.
Carreau said he and his staff will review proposals that were submitted and select the most “viable and qualified” ones that can be completed within 12 months of receiving money.
Project proposals are due by Oct. 19.
They will then ask representatives for the proposals to meet with what Carreau referred to as the “Challenge Council.”
The council will be made of up different community members, stakeholders and even some investors, Carreau said. But they can’t be involved in any of the projects submitted.
Recommendations from the council will then be passed onto the foundation. Carreau said they hope to make selections by January 2019 for the first round of funding. Each project can potentially be awarded up to $100,000.
Projects selected will be paired with a nonprofit group to help bring it to fruition, Carreau said.
He said the plan is to begin implementing the projects by spring.
Carreau said there is a possibility that not all of the $250,000 will be given away during the first round of funding and could be rolled over into the second round. The timeline for the second round of funding was not discussed during the event Tuesday.
The foundation will continue to reach out to different investors to help replenish the fund to make the project a continual self-sustaining effort, Carreau said. This could include donations from other foundations, corporations, government grant programs or even individual donors.
The challenge is not meant to pit neighborhoods against each other, he said. Instead, it's meant to challenge residents to come up with their best ideas to improve their neighborhoods.
During the event, Carreau even asked people in attendance to begin brainstorming, not with just people from their neighborhood, but from other ones as well.
There was a board in the room where people could post sticky notes with their ideas for different improvement projects.
They ranged from the creation of a youth performing arts center to community artwork that celebrates immigrant communities in Schenectady.
Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, was excited about the challenge. She said she plans to present ideas to help senior citizens and children in their neighborhood.
“This is awesome,” Isaacs said. “I think this is very good for all of the neighborhoods. I can’t wait to start a project.”
MaryAnn Ricciardi of Mont Pleasant also praised the neighborhood challenge.
“I think it’s fabulous,” Ricciardi said, adding she would like to see a project for kids. “I really applaud people that are putting their money into this for us. It’s a wonderful idea.”
“We can’t wait to see what comes forward to us and how we can best help you get great things done,” Carreau said.
A series of informational meetings will be held in the coming weeks to help educate residents on the particulars of the Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge:
Sept. 20 at the Ellis McClellan Street Health Center Auditorium at 600 McClellan St. at 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 22 at the Phyllis Bornt Branch Library at 948 State St. at 10 a.m.
Sept. 24 at the Rosa Venerini Early Childhood Center at 1840 Van Vranken Ave. at 6 p.m.
Sept. 26 at the Steinmetz Homes Community Room at 120 Emmons St. at 6 p.m.
Oct. 3 at the Schenectady County Public Library at 99 Clinton St. at 6:30 p.m.
Robert Carreau, executive director of the Schenectady Foundation, said they plan to schedule additional meetings and also can come to any neighborhood association meetings.