Cawaco gives $32,400 in local grants

By ED HOWELL
Posted 8/24/19

The Cawaco Resource Conservation & Development Council and Walker County's legislative delegation have formally announced about $32,400 in grants to Jasper and Walker County organizations at the Jasper Civic Center. 

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Cawaco gives $32,400 in local grants

Posted

The Cawaco Resource Conservation & Development Council and Walker County's legislative delegation have formally announced about $32,400 in grants to Jasper and Walker County organizations at the Jasper Civic Center. 

Cawaco, based in Birmingham, is one of nine non-profit RC&D councils together covering all 67 counties. It was formed in 1979 and serves Walker, Blount, Chilton, Jefferson and Shelby counties, providing funds for a range of projects. Many of those financial contributions are only from $2,000 to $5,000, but have been helpful for the programs addressed. 

Funds are allocated by the state and the Alabama Association of Resource Conservation & Development Council to grant out to small communities and non-profits. Overall, the program takes in $400,000 a year. 

At an informal gathering, the following grants were announced: Arc of Walker County, $2,394.86 for Feathered Friends; Walker County Humane Society, $4,000 for humane traps; Walker County Firefighters Association, $4,250 for identification badges; Walker County Community Action Agency, $4,720 for a youth summer program; Saragossa Volunteer Fire Department, $4,180 for health and safety needs; Backyard Blessings, $5,000 for the backpack food program; and the Walker County Sheriff's Department, $7,763 for workforce and retention needs. 

Drayton Cosby, a program developer with Cawaco, noted a few years ago Walker County was "a blip on the radar screen" as far as project applications. "Probably six or seven years later, Walker County is the radar screen. There are blips all over it." He said Cawaco officials are excited about the interest and activity from this area, as local residents try to figure out how to make their communities better.

The recipients then reported on their projects. Richard Fikes, the president of the firefighters association, said a photo ID machine and a computer to run it was needed. Due to active shooter situations and other critical incidents, law enforcement will not just let anyone on the seen and want to know who others are wanting to come in, including firefighters. 

"In addition, the Walker County Board of Education will not let us on the school bus without proper ID," Fikes said. "It doesn't matter if someone is hurt on that bus during a wreck, and I just show up. I don't know the bus driver and she don't know me. I say, 'I'm with the fire department and I'm here to help.' I don't get on the bus."

As a result, proper identification is needed for local firemen. 

"We are using this ID machine to make sure all 26 departments will have a standard ID, so we can have it with us when we get to the scene and we can get into the area we need to be in to provide treatment or whatever we need to do," Fikes said, noting the machine making the IDs is portable. 

Regional Paramedical Services also gave the association a computer to go along with the machine to make the project more affordable, he said. 

Fikes said the association will allow access to any other agencies who need it, for a small minimal charge to cover the cost of materials. 

Saragossa Fire Lt. Taylor Inman said his department used their grant to purchase fire extinguishers and several technical equipment items for various needs, such as lighting at night, detecting gas leaks and measuring the quality of air at structure fires. 

Nick Key, the director of operations at the Sheriff's Office, said his department's grant was used for setting up GED courses for inmates and workforce development courses in the Walker County Jail.

"A lot of the folks we get in jail cannot read or write above a certain grade level," Key said. "That is an issue in the work force. You can't get a job if you can't read" above a certain level. 

Volunteers are being obtained to help teach the inmates and help to build resumes, he said, noting two or three classes have been held. A Smart Board is provided for instructors to use, with dual use for sheriff personnel needs, including training. 

"They also use that for roll call before the shifts starts," Sheriff Nick Smith said, noting jailers will use the space in a few days to do some online training. 

"The inmates are happy with it. They're actually doing something while they are locked up instead of sitting in the cell," Key said.

Deidre Tatum of the Walker County Community Action Agency said their grant will be used for summer and after-school youth programs. In the after-school program, snacks are provided to the children, as well as transportation from Jasper City Schools to their location on Sixth Avenue. 

"We let them finish their homework, check it and have playtime," she said. 

Summertime includes multiple activities to deal with subjects like reading and math, and  activities outside of the building are also provided. The Jasper City School buses transport the children for the summer program, while vans are used for the after-school program. 

"Cawaco has helped us pay for transportation and travel expense for the youth," as some work is done in the summer to help them avoid risk-taking behaviors and to approve their behavior and social skills. "When traveling, even on the bus they learn how to behave on the bus," she said. 

Leneda Jones with Backyard Blessings said her charity serves county and Jasper city school children who do not have enough food at home.

"We give them a bag of food, designed for the weekend. It is child friendly, non-perishable, individual serving size food, probably nine to 10 items. They take it home every weekend of the school year," she said. 

The food is put in bags on Thursdays mornings in the unused back space at the Piggly Wiggly in Dora, she said, as a board member with the charity owns the building and donates 1,000 square feet to use. 

About 850 students are being served for about 32 weeks this year, with the first delivery for this year set for next week. Jones said the bags of food are delivered on Thursdays to put in their backpacks at school before the weekend.

The Cawaco funds were used to purchase food from the Piggly Wiggly (at wholesale prices) and from the Food Bank of Central Alabama in Birmingham. 

"We believe no child under our watch should have to go without food or not enough food on the weekends," Jones said, noting the charity's 10th anniversary comes up in January. 

Joanna Brand, senior vice president of the Arc of Walker County, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, received a grant for the day program. The money will be used for Featured Friends, a bird program for 38 day program participants. 

"Partnering with Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology FeederWatch Program, Featured Friends participants collected data from their feeder observations beginning November 2018 through March 2019," the Arc said in a release. "Documentation was collected on 31 separate species of birds. Participants observed on at least two consecutive days each month and provided data on bird specials, as well as weather conditions such as temperature, precipitation and average conditions." 

The participants also were instructed on the use of binoculars, feeder care and type of food to attract certain bird species. They were involved in bird walks, identification activities and presentations from Camp McDowell's raptor program. Results show a 10 percent increase in bird feeders installed at the participants' homes, as well as a 26 percent increase in bird identification and a 30 percent increase in patience and mental alertness.

A representative from the Humane Society was not present. Patti Pennington, the program manager and grants administrator for Cawaco, said the Humane Society used its for a project that resulted from when a dog ran around with a jug on its head. It was difficult to catch the dog, leaving the dog almost dead before they caught it, she said. As a result, the funds were used to purchase a net gun and crates to safely catch and transport animals to the Humane Society. 

State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, said it was "healthy" that the Cawaco grants covered so many different areas of need locally. She noted as a former law enforcement official she is particularly interested in what the Sheriff's Office did with its funds, as a continuing education is an essential tool and the GED program for inmates "is extremely progressive for a rural county." She also wanted to visit the Backyard Blessings assembly. She said many of the other projects are "noble" in their scope. 

State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, noted that Cawaco has worked to make the application process user friendly over the past couple of years, helping to make the process more equal. He said Cawaco does a good job in the grant selection process. 

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, noted the grants are competitive, and the cooperation between Cawaco and the legislative delegation is why the number of local grants increased. He noted the local legislators fight for all the resources that constituents could use, "all the time, every time." He said he works closely with Cawaco officials, which is not always the case with other RC&Ds in the state. He said the legislators and Cawaco are focused on maximizing resources. 

Cosby noted that Paul Kennedy, the executive director of the Walker Area Community Foundation and a former Cawaco official, is still on Cawaco's board of directors. Reed said Cawaco and the foundation are "playing off each other" to determine how to fund local programs among themselves. 

"We're working on one side and they're filling in the blanks on the other side," showing a teamwork factor between the two, Reed said.

Pennington said the grant application process was closed for 2020, but that people could still contact her to apply for 2021 and as Cawaco could also advise on other resources. Cosby also noted that sometimes Cawaco may find a project fails to take place, and picks up another project that had not made the cut to take the funds. 

Anyone interested with talking with Cawaco about a project may make an appointment at Cawaco's  Five Points office at 2112 11th Ave. S., Suite 541 in Birmingham or call Pennington or Executive Director Kellie Johnston at 205-623-0457. They may also go to the website, cawaco.org or to Cawaco.RCD on Facebook.