By: Ahmad Graves-El
Downe Township was recently named as one of five South Jersey communities that will receive a $100,000 grant, which will be used to help uplift the town’s heart and soul.
The grant will be awarded to the township, located in Cumberland County, by the Transform South Jersey Heart & Soul organization.
“Transform South Jersey (TSJ) is a collaboration between the Community Foundation of South Jersey and local [and] national funding partners to support neighbors in building capital (individual, intellectual, social, creative, physical, and financial) for their places,” said Erik Estrada, community manager with the Community Foundation of South Jersey.
According to Estrada, the goal is to also acquire a substantial amount of input and involvement from individual community members in the decision-making processes that will shape the future of each town.
“This grant […] is to support Downe Township’s participation in the Heart & Soul process of community engagement, visioning, and capacity building,” said Meghan Wren, volunteer chair of the Downe Township Green Team (DTGT).
According to communityheartandsoul.org, “Community Heart & Soul is a four phase, step-by-step process. Developed and field-tested for more than a decade in partnership with small cities and towns […] [and] has evolved into a proven method for bringing the community together to chart a course forward.”
“It aims [to] reconnect people with what they love most about their town and translates those personal and emotional connections into a blueprint for future community decisions,” Estrada said.
The DTGT, along with the township’s mayor, Robert G. Campbell, and some of its residents, played a major role in helping to procure the six-figure funding.
The months-long process required them to attend workshops, participate in webinars, write a Letter of Intent, get community involvement, and hold a community engagement event.
Wren then “wrote a grant proposal that captured the efforts that [they] had made including the thoughts and visions of residents, partners, leaders, and influencers, sharing the success of [their] activities and the incredible enthusiasm that the opportunity was generating around the township.”
Subsequently, they hosted a team from Transform South Jersey – which included members of the Orton Family Foundation, the progenitors who created the Community Heart & Soul model – to show them what Downe Township can do.
Needless to say, the Downe Township team left quite an impression on Transform South Jersey members.
“Downe Township […] had some creative ways […] that really stood out from some of the other applicants,” Estrada said.
The Cumberland County township was among 32 towns vying to become a grant recipient and numerous benefits will be received by its residents.
“The grant will be incredibly empowering for the people of Downe Township and will benefit this and future generations,” said Wren, “as the growing team engages residents, business leaders and friends envisioning and then creating a better community.”
“It should also lead to new leaders emerging from the community and positive change happening through the town,” Estrada added. “Often, we see the same volunteers or groups trying to make things happen, but through this work, we hope to see residents charged up, activated, and understanding of how they can make a difference in their community.”
Another major benefit is that “the Community Foundation of South Jersey will establish a separate endowed fund” for the township.
“[W]ith the endowed community fund, we expect community members to be able to put real dollars to opportunities and challenges they determine and care about,” said Estrada. “Which, because it is endowed, will not only exist forever, but continue to grow over time.”
Some of the goals Downe Township will attempt to achieve by receiving the grant are building its economy, coming up with solutions to counteract climate change, and investing more time and effort in creating arts, history, and cultural opportunities for its residents, plus more.
“[Downe Township is] an incredibly special place with a rich history, spectacular natural resources, a unique pace of life and a lot of character and characters,” said Wren. “The township has many challenges and can really flourish with a boost from the Transform South Jersey funding and [the] expertise to help us help ourselves.”
For more information about Transform South Jersey, visit transformsouthjersey.org.