Santa Cruz nonprofit provides micro-grants for community projects
Thousand dollars and a smart idea go farther than you may think. For the last 22 years, Bread for the Journey (BFJ), a national nonprofit organization, has been operating on this principle.
BFJ has 20 chapters scattered across the country, including one in Santa Cruz, all with a simple mission: to collect funds and redirect them in the form of micro-grants of less than $3,000 to catalyze local community projects. The organization is run entirely by volunteers, often from their own homes.
“When I think of Bread for the Journey, I think of someone saying, ‘Here’s a little bread for your journey. Here’s a little bit to get you going—to get you to your next stop,’” says Jerilyn Kass, one of the four founding board members of the Santa Cruz chapter. “We give seed money for people who have these great ideas but [have] no money, and it gives them that initial push to get them to their next stop.”
The organization is fundamentally based on simplicity. Because they work with small grants in local communities, BFJ is blessedly devoid of the bureaucracy that is often characteristic of the grant-writing processes required of more grandiose projects. Susan Kohen, another founding member of the Santa Cruz BFJ, describes the process in a straightforward way. “We talk with them,” she says. “We ask them a few questions, tell them we’ll get back to them, and then we just decide. We call them, we give them the money, and that’s it.”
“It’s amazing what you can do with not that much money,” Kass adds. “You can really get something off the ground. Once you have something in place, you’re no longer just an idea person; you’re a person who makes things happen. Then that naturally attracts more people.”
With some seed money by way of recent BFJ grants, four Santa Cruz-based organizations, grown from once abstract ideas, are coming into fruition. One organization, Jewel Cultural Arts Program (JCAP) is a program directed by Laurie McInerney that breaks the banal routine of senior homes. The organization individually takes seniors out of their homes to live performances, local art galleries and restaurants—experiences otherwise inaccessible to them. The organization received a $700 BFJ grant, which they needed to buy liability insurance in order to continue their program for another year.
Tracey Marquart of Community Life supports and advances adults with disabilities. The organization teaches them necessary life skills and helps them find jobs in a community that is limited in opportunities for individuals with disabilities. With a $1,200 grant from BFJ, Marquart was able to buy two new computers with the programs they needed for their office and clients.
Curtis Reliford, the founder of Follow your Heart Action Network and a former resident of New Orleans, collected surplus materials from various communities for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He later decided to focus his efforts on the local level. He began collecting items such as cribs, toys, and clothes for migrant farm workers in Watsonville. Reliford received a $1,800 grant to fix the broken axle in his truck that he uses to deliver the items, and to buy an outdoor container to store all of his collected items.
Don Spence from the Veterans History Project documents oral histories of veterans from different wars, some who have never told their stories before. In the past, he recorded their stories using an archaic video camera. To document their stories with a better quality camera, BFJ gave Spence a professional digital camera.
Kass and Kohen believe these efforts are self-sustaining projects that serve a vital purpose in an ordinarily underserved community. Reflecting on their first recipient when they started BFJ of Santa Cruz one and a half years ago, Kohen says, “Our first grant was given to a woman who started these gardens in daycare centers. And right after we gave her this little grant to show people she could attract some money, she got a large grant from someone else.”
Bread for the Journey is getting the proverbial snowball rolling, and Kass and Kohen are providing the initial push in Santa Cruz. While they say it’s hard to ask for money, Kass and Kohen are both firm believers in the saving graces of generosity in an increasingly estranged world. “I think people are naturally generous,” says Kass. “Some people just don’t know it yet.”