Greensboro group aims to boost neighborhoods

Terra Cotta Heritage Foundation
Terra Cotta Heritage Foundation

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In 2002, one year after the launch of Building Stronger Neighborhoods, the initiative was aware of roughly 40 volunteer neighborhood organizations in Greensboro.

Today, the organization knows about 175 volunteer neighborhood groups.

“There’s really been a movement to develop voluntary neighborhood organizations so they can speak for themselves,” says Donna Newton, liaison for the group, which is housed at Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.

Funded by the community foundation and four other local foundations that together contribute over $100,000 a year, Building Stronger Neighborhoods has awarded 132 grants totaling over $248,000 to 59 neighborhoods.

“It’s a collaborative effort that provides small grants and technical assistance to neighborhoods in Greensboro,” Newton says.

Grants typically total $2,000 to $3,000 each, and are awarded three times a year.

The committee that oversees the grants process consists of 11 members, mainly neighborhood leaders from throughout the city, plus representatives of some of the initiative’s foundation funders.

Those funders, in addition to Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, are the Cemala Foundation, Cone Health Foundation, Weaver Foundation and Joseph M. Bryan Foundation.

The initiative, for example, awarded a $3,000 grant to the Terra Cotta Heritage Foundation, a community group trying to preserve the legacy of a community five miles southwest of Greensboro in the unincorporated community of Pomona.

An African-American community whose male residents were the main labor force for the Pomona Terra Cotta Company, which made drain and sewer pipe and other clay products, Pomona consisted of wood-frame or red-clay blockhouses the company built and owned.

Once totaling roughly 150 houses, the community now consists of fewer than a dozen houses, with the youngest residents over age 80, Newton says.

“They know the community is going away,” she says. “They already are surrounded by industry.”

So a group of residents formed the new foundation, launched a museum in one of the houses, and are acquiring artifacts and trying to preserve the community’s history.

Building Stronger Neighborhoods also has awarded grants to half-a-dozen community gardens in the past two years, and has supported health programs, community youth leagues, social gatherings, community centers, yoga classes for elderly people and “night-out” gatherings to promote neighborhood safety, among programs.

“The whole purpose of our grants is to build community,” Newton says. “We always want the neighborhood to do something itself.”

So the grants only partially fund neighborhood projects and are intended to serve as an incentive for the neighborhoods to raise money or contribute in some way, Newton says.

“We’re helping them help themselves,” she says. “We aren’t there to do it for them.”

In 2003, Building Stronger Neighborhoods also assisted in the creation of the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress, says Newton, who is adviser to the Congress and also director of the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium, a group with 220 nonprofit members that works to build the capacity of local nonprofits.

The Neighborhood Congress, which serves roughly 85 neighborhoods with about 20,000 households, works to address citywide issues of concern to neighborhoods, and to support individual neighborhoods and connect them to city and nonprofit resources and information.

The group, which meets once a month at the Central Library downtown, spearheaded development of a city policy, for example, that gives neighborhoods a greater voice in proposed developments that would affect their communities, Newton says.

It also pushed for a policy the city is putting into effect that provides greater accountability for the release of public records, she says.

Building Stronger Neighborhoods and the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress also have encouraged neighborhood representatives to volunteer and request appointments to serve on city boards and commissions, Newton says.

Now, she says, neighborhoods are represented on a broad range of city boards and commissions, and on search committees for top city jobs.

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