UWCA Grants Will Help Community Projects Flourish in Chilton, St. Clair and Walker Counties

Work being done on the new path at the Pell City Gateway Community Garden. Photo Credit: Pell City Gateway Community Garden Facebook.

Laura Wilson, a fifth-grade science teacher at Williams Intermediate in Pell City, has watched her children grow up alongside the Pell City Gateway Community Garden, one of last year’s first-ever recipients of funding through United Way of Central Alabama’s (UWCA) Community Project Grants (CPG) program.

The garden was first seeded by community members in 2014, and Wilson began tending the garden the following year, her newborn daughter and three-year-old son at her side. Nine years later, those two kids have spent much of their childhoods with their mother at the garden, which Wilson has grown to love. It’s even become a source of comfort to her since her father recently passed away.

“My father was my outdoors person; so, one day, I went to the garden by myself,” Wilson said, “and I just picked weeds and strapped up some muscadine vines and then sat on the bench and wrote in the public journal. And I left feeling better.”

At the garden, the funding helped build a path that allows people with mobility issues to more easily experience the natural beauty of the area. Wilson said the funding was critical for her organization.

On June 20th, the second round of grant applications will open in Chilton, St. Clair and Walker counties. Qualified organizations in each of those counties can apply for up to $2,500 in funding through the CPG program.

Agencies awarded funds will also be invited to join United Way’s free professional development opportunities, including trainings on a variety of topics, including managing organizational finances and effective advocacy.

In each county, a UWCA Advisory Board, made up of civic and business leaders from that community, will decide which applicants are awarded grants and how the funds are distributed.

Grant money must be used to fund direct costs related to the execution of programs meeting community needs or for one-time expenses that will positively impact the residents of that county.

Shakeitha Tatum, Vice President of Agency Relations at UWCA, said the grants are a way to supplement the support given to the myriad services provided by United Way partners and programs through the organization’s annual campaign.

“While all the work that United Way does is driven by volunteers from our community, the Community Project Grants are a way for us to really localize the voices of residents in Central Alabama,” Tatum said. “The local boards give us boots on the ground to support programs and organizations which may not need consistent funding from UWCA.”

Zachary Gentile, Senior Vice President at The Ford Meter Box Company, who heads the local Community Project Grant in his home of St. Clair County, said, in addition to the community garden, funding has gone toward a human trafficking rehabilitation center and a middle school physical education program.

“Having that advisory group of people that live and work here and are so intertwined with the community, we made really good decisions,” Gentile said, “and I can tell you just how grateful the recipients were. I do think that we’ve done something really good here.”

“The grant allowed us to do a project that we would not have been able to do with our regular money that we bring in,” Wilson said. “It allowed us to [undertake] a project that we needed that we would not have funds to do otherwise.”

This is the first year that Walker County will hold its own Community Project Grants process. Shelby County is also set to create its own process, and Blount County will follow in 2025.

When applications for this latest round open on June 20th, organizations in Chilton, St. Clair and Walker Counties can request funding at https://www.uwca.org/grant-opportunities.