This unique project puts the “C” in creative as well as the “C” in community.
Christina Long is president of the Create Campaign, Inc., a firm that helps small minority-owned businesses grow. True to her business name, Long has created a unique grant-funded program that will benefit not just small businesses in Northeast Wichita, but also Northeast Wichita homeowners.
Long used a portion of her grant funding to help nine small-business owners shore up their entrepreneurial skills. Now, she’s using the balance of the funding to contract with and pay for those same businesses to complete much-needed home improvements at no charge to the property owners.
Long created the program, the Prosper Community Improvement Project, in response to a grant request for proposal issued by the Evergy Community Investment Fund. The fund was established by Evergy Energy to help improve the Northeast Wichita community where the company installed upgraded high-capacity transmission lines in 2018.
Besides the fact that few people knew about the planned line upgrade, community members expressed concern that the poles had a negative impact on the value of not only the homes along the transmission route but on all the homes in the community.
In response, Evergy established a fund to help improve the area. All of the funds were to awarded to non-profit organizations for services to be provided in three core Northeast Wichita ZIP codes – 67214, 67208, and 67219. In late 2019, the fund awarded a total of $376,000 to 13 local non-profits.
SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
With the $75,000 awarded to the Create Campaign, Long – in conjunction with Kansas Business Services – developed a culturally specific entrepreneurship training program, then advertised for existing businesses to participate in the project. This wasn’t a program for startups.
“They had to meet income or revenue qualifications, be licensed and show us proof of insurance to be able to be in the program,” said Long.
The training sessions were held for four Tuesday evenings in February, and each two-hour class included dinner. Long had hoped to attract 15 participants, but nine small business owners completed the program and are now certified to participate in phase two of the program – helping homeowners in the community and making money for their business.
HOME IMPROVEMENT WORK
This is the part of the project that has Northeast Wichita excited. Now with her certified team of businesses, Long is ready to put the balance of the grant funds to work completing home improvement projects in the community.
Earlier this month, she mailed letters to all of the owner-occupied homes between Oliver and I-135 and 21st and Central announcing the program and the homeowners’ chance to have an exterior or interior home improvement project completed for free. To say the least, the response was overwhelming well before the application deadline of May 26.
Potential projects to be completed could include, but are not limited to, painting, power washing, trash/junk hauling, lawn care, gutter cleaning, exterior lighting, windows, roof, driveways, sidewalks, fences and projects that would bring homeowners in compliance with city code violations may qualify. Individuals are asked to select just one project for funding.
Applications can be submitted online at www.tiny.cc/prosper316 or mailed to Create Campaign, 333 E. 21st St., N., Wichita, KS 67214.
With just $30,000 left from the grant, Long says she knows she already has more requests than she can possibly fund, but she still welcomes applications. She’s also asking individuals to nominate people who they believe can benefit from the program. Long is still deciding on the project selection process, but she knows she’d like to get the community involved in making the selection.
The word is already getting around about this creative program and with such positive feedback, Long is hoping to find funds to complete more of the submitted home improvement projects. In addition, she definitely will reapply again later this year for the second round of Evergy Grant funding. Next year, she says, with the program plan and curriculum already developed, there will be more money for the home improvement portion of the project.
“This program is serving as a blueprint,” says Long. “The city is interested in it because of code enforcement. For example, if some of these folks have existing code violations and we’re able to pay for that, we help them and we help the neighborhood.”