Take advantage of federal funding opportunities

Because the six southern counties of South Carolina are in the federally-designated S.C. Promise Zone, there are tremendous opportunities for local organizations to tap into federal funding.

But there’s a catch: Federal dollars won’t rain down on our area unless we ask for them by applying for grants and loans.

The burden is on organizations that want to make a difference. They have to go through the sometimes arduous, time-consuming process of filling in forms and submitting applications to federal agencies if they want to receive funding for projects that will grow jobs, increase commerce, advance education, create better health care, improve infrastructure, leverage capital, boost affordable housing and more.

Fourteen agencies have more than 50 programs that provide preferential treatment to grant and loan applicants from distressed Promise Zone counties and communities. In our area, that means local governments, churches, nonprofits and groups in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties can apply for funding through processes that generally are specific to each agency. To find out what funds may be available for a project you want funded, check out the grant section of the Promise Zone website (www.SCPromiseZone.org).

While there’s red tape in applying for any grant, the good news for our area is that the process is working on our behalf. Since last year, local governments and nonprofits have applied for more than $22 million in grants and low-interest loans. Since last year, projects throughout our six-county area have received 13.8 million in funding -- everything from an $89,729 grant that targets food insecurity in our counties to an $8.3 million package for water and sewer improvements in Hampton Country. In July, area organizations won $1.9 million in funding for workforce training to help young adults as well as money to train nurses to serve our rural areas and funds to pay for other health-related projects.

Currently, local organizations and governments have more than two dozen applications still under consideration for an additional $10 million in federal funding. Federal agencies routinely award grants in September, just before the close of the federal fiscal year.

The SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance (SCA) is the lead agency for our Promise Zone. It doesn’t apply for grants on your behalf, but it can assist by directing your organization to technical assistance within the federal agencies, facilitating multi-partner collaboration efforts and discussing opportunities that may fit your community. SCA leans on the Promise Zone’s partners, supporters and local governments to encourage local organizations to do what’s necessary to submit qualified grant applications and secure funding.

We have an enormous opportunity to pump millions and millions of federal dollars into our communities. But to do so, we can’t wait for the money to appear magically. Home-grown organizations need to put together applications and apply for grants.

Let’s not miss chances that are ripe for the plucking. Learn about grant opportunities through our website and talk with professionals in federal agencies to discover whether there are programs that you can take advantage of to get federal funding to change lives.

Dean Van Pelt is an executive with the Savannah River Nuclear Solutions who is coordinating efforts of the S.C. Promise Zone for the SouthernCarolina Alliance.

The South Carolina Promise Zone, a project of the SouthernCarolina Alliance, seeks to catalyze efforts in Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties to boost the quality of life and revitalize rural communities. For more information, go online to: http://www.SCPromiseZone.org