Two years ago, Tara Poole was chosen as a winner for our very first Causeway Challenge asking, “How can we make Chattanooga a more connected city?” Her idea? Microgrants, a program that awards small amounts of money (up to $1000) to help people on the brink of economic self-sufficiency get over the hump. Tara applied for the Challenge because she saw potential for her program to be much bigger than a handful of grants. The response she received from partners in the community proved her right! Tara leveraged the $2500 she won through the Causeway Challenge, a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and additional money through crowdfunding with Causeway to fund a pilot program with $6,500 to invest in a group of individuals.
Tara’s strategy for her program was to partner with existing non-profits, rather than start her own. Her first partner was with Northside Neighborhood House (NNH), who helped her identify 12 households who could benefit from the Microgrants program. For some, these grants were able to remove a variety of barriers to health and education through covering small bills such as testing fees and dental work.
Even though Tara was working hard to distribute these grants, she was also challenged with measuring her success. She asked herself, “How do I know if these grants are really making an impact?”. Taking notes from a similar program in St. Paul, Minnesota that inspired her, Tara prioritized measuring what these Microgrants were accomplishing. After asking Northside Neighborhood House to conduct a follow-up survey with the grant participants, Tara was amazed with the results. Of the 7 respondents, 3 people reported a positive change in income, 5 people indicated that they felt very confident in their ability to overcome future barriers in their lives, and all 7 people reported that Microgrants helped to improve their quality of life. For Tara, this is exactly the effect she was hoping to have on the community. Starting with a small pilot program, Tara could take this strategy and apply it on a larger scale knowing that it would be successful.
Tara’s program is a great example of the power of collaboration in Chattanooga. Through partnering with other organizations, she was able to turn her idea into a valuable asset for more more than just one group of people. Microgrants continues to look for potential points of growth, but because of its impact, it has been well-received among many community members. The NNH has even decided to incorporate the Microgrants program into their budget moving forward! Seeing this type of partnership and collaboration proves to us that Chattanoogans have what it takes to make Chattanooga a more connected city.
Now think: Where can you start collaborating with your community?