Penny Jarecki didn’t think she would have such an emotional reaction when a representative of the Orton Family Foundation called two weeks ago to tell her that Polson had won a $100,000 grant for community planning. After months of applications, interviews and site visits, she broke down with tears of joy.
“We’re absolutely floating down here, it’s just wonderful news,” said Jarecki, president of the Greater Polson Community Foundation. “People here were so excited about the possibility when we were named a finalist and to be a recipient was absolutely marvelous.”
Earlier this year, the foundation applied for the Heart and Soul Community Planning grant from the Orton Family Foundation, based in Vermont. According to Orton’s Director of Communication John Barstow, the foundation first began awarding grants to small communities in 2007 and this is the second round of grants given to towns in the Rocky Mountain West and New England. Barstow said the organization doesn’t just award the money, but rather works with each community on a development vision for its future.
“It’s an important distinction,” Barstow said. “We’re not a grant foundation that just throws some money at them and says ‘check back in, in a few years.’”
Early in the new year, members of the Greater Polson Community Foundation, the Orton Family Foundation and community members will gather to create a two-year contract and begin the process of hiring a project coordinator. The foundation grant is for $100,000, but the community must raise $25,000, as well as $75,000 of “in kind” donations and volunteer hours. Part of the grant will go toward paying the project coordinator, who will receive some training from the Orton foundation.
The job of the project coordinator will be to organize efforts and achieve goals outlined in the contract between local residents and the Orton foundation. Jarecki said a major goal for Polson will stem from economic growth. According to Jarecki, almost 30 percent of the town lives below the poverty line and many young people are leaving the area to find better job opportunities. That’s something that needs to change, Jarecki said.
“The bottom line is the bottom line. We need to attract new business to help the local economy,” she said.
To do that, Jarecki said the community needs to establish events and attractions that will bring tourists – the town’s primary economic driver – year round, instead of just a few weeks during the summer. Currently the Community Foundation is trying to establish a triathlon next summer and a film festival during the winter.
Barstow said that 28 towns applied for the grant and, from the beginning, Polson’s application stood out. Barstow said an important part of the selection process is finding towns that have unique and interesting challenges, but not so unique that other communities can’t learn from it. The fact that Polson is located on a reservation was a big factor, Barstow said, and is something that many communities in the Rocky Mountain West can relate to.
Along with Polson, four other communities were recently awarded grants from the Orton foundation, including Cortez and North Fork Valley in Colorado, Essex Junction, Vt. and Gardiner, Maine.
Jarecki said her group was honored to be one of the recipients.
“We can’t change the world, but this Orton grant gives us a chance to change our community,” she said.
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