Make It Happen! Individuals Can Make Positive Community Change

by Matt Charles

Do you know how to make your community a better place to live? Do you have an idea that would touch a large population or wide area? These are questions that Danville Regional Foundation (DRF) posed to those within its service area. To turn their ideas into reality, DRF launched its Make It Happen (MIH!) grant program in November 2010.

MIH! is about engaging more people and organizations in the transformation of the Dan River Region. This program fosters the belief in the need for "bright spots" sparked throughout the community. These bright spots are birthed from the ideas that everyday citizens have about positively improving life around Danville and Pittsylvania County in Virginia and Caswell County in North Carolina. This small grant initiative demonstrates the possibilities through actions that make a difference in neighborhoods and communities throughout the region. As more and more bright spots appear, they begin to connect like a spider web of positive change, joining together neighborhoods within the Dan River Region.

DRF's first Community Read kicked off in October 2010 and centered around Dan and Chip Heath's book, "Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard." This work was the seed that sprouted and quickly grew into the MIH! program. Dan Heath launched DRF's 2010-2011 Speaker Series on a rainy and cold autumn morning — but that didn't stop over 350 community members from pledging ideas on how they planned to make the Dan River Region a better place.

To date, DRF has received 84 requests for MIH! grants, approving 40 of these with awards of up to $10,000 per grant. DRF has placed a large investment in this community-led program, and plans to provide $1.6 million from the latter months of 2010 through December 2013.

Examples of MIH! awards are:

  • Community gardens
  • Backpack Buddies School Reading Program
  • Competitive disc golf course
  • Senior fitness center
  • Community playground

Notifications of grants occur very quickly. Once a simple 2-3 page letter is submitted, DRF will approve or deny it within 2 weeks. The MIH! program stipulates that the grants must be carried out within 90 days of the award and if the applicant wants help with or feedback on the application, DRF staff will provide it.

It is very easy both for foundations to give out money to combat social problems and for everyday individuals to complain about these problems. Yes, it takes more work, but positive community change is much more effective and leads to an unimaginable amount of satisfaction when the citizenry takes the lead on making its home a better place to live, work, and play.

What are you doing to make your community better?

Matt Charles is communications and public relations director at Danville Regional Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations. The one-year anniversary of Make It Happen! is today.


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