Against the Grain Scholars
Have you heard about Fuel Cincinnati? It is is a nonprofit accelerator that identifies and backs innovative community projects in the greater Cincinnati region. Run by an all-volunteer committee of young professionals, for the past six years Fuel (formerly known as Ignite) has been part of Give Back Cincinnati, the region’s largest young professional volunteer organization.
Fuel supports community innovators in a number of ways, including by awarding micro grants of between $250 and $2,000 to nonprofit projects in four core areas: education, community building, diversity, and environment. Fuel Cincinnati has received generous grants from The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile US Bank Foundation and from The Mayerson Family Foundations.
Joe Stewart-Pirone, Fuel chair, sent me information about the ten projects they sparked in 2013. While diverse, what they have in common is their common good for our community. What a great effort!
“Our mission is to identify young professionals with great ideas for improving the community, and then help them take those ideas from the back of a napkin to implementation in a year or less,” Joe said.
Fuel Cincinnati 2013 Projects
Growing Value Nursery
Braden Trauth, design professional and permaculture expert, is a director of Cincinnati-based nonprofit This Land, Inc. He came to Fuel Cincinnati with a proposal to create a retail nursery where the organization could offer both edible plants and education on how to grow them sustainably in the local urban environment.
Fuel’s committee fell in love with the idea at first sight. “You talk with Braden for a half hour and you realize that we have these world-class experts on permaculture right here in Cincinnati,” Joe said. “Fuel knew we wanted to help launch this project as soon as we saw it. The focus on sustainability and on addressing the urban food desert problem was timely and exciting.”
Fuel invited This Land to present the idea at its annual Fuel the Fire event in June, where five organizers pitched their project ideas to over a hundred and fifty community members. Each person in the audience paid $20 for the opportunity to listen to the pitches and vote for their favorite, all while enjoying locally brewed beer at the Moerlein Tap Room and food from Cincinnati’s popular Eli’s BBQ.
This Land didn’t take home the $2,000 grant for the top vote-getter at Fuel the Fire, and it didn’t even win the $500 second-place grant. But the organization got to share its idea with dozens of people who had never heard of permaculture before that evening, and Trauth walked away from the event with a number of new connections who were interested in what This Land was doing.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. In August, Trauth met with Fuel Cincinnati to provide an update on the project, and Fuel awarded This Land a $1,200 grant. The Growing Value Nursery is now up and running in Northside.
Against the Grain Scholars
Michael Farrell conceived the idea that did win the most votes – and a $2,000 grant – at Fuel the Fire this year. The Xavier University alumnus and middle school teacher at St. Francis Seraph in Over-the-Rhine saw a gap in the local nonprofit landscape, and he started an organization called Against the Grain Scholars to fill it.
When Mike looked around at the programs serving inner city school students, it seemed to him that most resources aimed to help underachieving students. He felt not enough was being done to support students who were succeeding in that challenging environment.
So he identified three students at his own school whose positive attitude, hard work, and solid achievement set them apart from their peers. Then he lined up young professionals to serve as mentors. He secured donations of tablet computers. He helped the students organize community service projects. And he created opportunities for the students to interact with their mentors. These were the first “Against the Grain Scholars.”
As the first generation of Against the Grain Scholars prepared to move on to high school, Mike came to Fuel Cincinnati for help to keep the project going for a new group of students. Fuel liked the idea and the passion behind it, but in a competitive field of fourteen excellent proposals, Mike’s wasn’t initially one of the five invited to present at Fuel the Fire in June.
But apparently it was number six. Three days before the event, Mike got a call from Fuel.
“One of the other projects dropped out at the last minute,” recalled Joe. “We called Michael in the middle of the committee’s meeting to see if he was interested in the opportunity because we had to make a decision that night.”
Within 48 hours, Mike put together what turned out to be the winning presentation for the event. And after the votes were counted, he took home a $2,000 check to add two new student scholars to the program. “A teacher like Michael is a hero,” said Joe. “He’s a hero to those kids because he’s showing them how to change their lives, and he’s a hero to the community because he’s developing the next generation of young professionals who are going to help keep Cincinnati and our region moving forward.”
Grants and More
Fuel Cincinnati helped launch eight other great ideas in the greater Cincinnati region in 2013. The Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (http://www.walnuthillsrf.org) received $500 to support its Five Points Alley Biergarten project, which transformed a blighted, unused space into a hub for community events in the neighborhood.
Local architects Elizabeth Schmidt and Brad Cooper won a $1,500 grant for their Place from Space design competition (http://placefromspace.wordpress.com), which generated over 30 proposals for innovative development of vacant spaces in five neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Krista Beyrer (http://www.cahs.uc.edu/faculty/facultyprofile.aspx?epersonID=beyrerka) at University of Cincinnati received $2,000 for an initiative to use iPads to help people with language impairments caused by strokes or brain injuries communicate with others.
And Fuel awarded a $975 matching grant to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s Future Blooms Program (http://keepcincinnatibeautiful.org/programs/future-blooms) to fund the boarding and historically accurate painting of the iconic Paramount Building at Peebles Corner in Walnut Hills.
With Give Back Cincinnati’s (http://www.givebackcincinnati.org) former Vice President of Programs, Javi Cuadrado, taking over as Chair in 2014, Fuel Cincinnati has big plans for next year, too. Among other things, Fuel plans to create more opportunities for Give Back Cincinnati’s young professional members to connect with community projects and organizations looking for volunteers and pro bono professional services providers.