Web Exclusive - October 2014
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Want to Build a Better Community?

Who doesn't want to make their community better? What if you could get help with programs you've developed to build a better community?

Of course, you know that there are plenty of grants and partnerships out there that can help you do just that. The National Recreation and Park Association's Building Better Communities signature grant program is one of them.

The program is initially focusing on parks, as they are critical to preserving natural resources that have real economic benefits for communities. The grant program is a partnership between NRPA and the American Water Charitable Foundation that aims to create and enhance nature-based playgrounds and natural play spaces for children, while providing education and demonstration areas advocating water stewardship and conservation. The projects supported by the Building Better Communities program are supported with funding through AWCF and are implemented via annual grants administered through NRPA.

The application period for the next round of grants, which will be awarded in 2015, opens on Oct. 27, 2014.

In 2014, four grants totaling more than $380,000 were awarded to underwrite local nature-based play spaces across American Water's nationwide service areas. The projects chosen—from a total of 118 applications—were selected based on several criteria, including play value, education value, proximity to American Water's service areas, relevance of the project to the RFP project parameters, use of natural play materials, opportunities for American Water employee volunteer involvement and construction of an actual children's play area.

"Parks and public lands are integral in conserving natural resources, but it is experiences and interactions that foster a strong sense of responsibility and appreciation for nature—especially among children," said Barbara Tulipane, president and CEO of NRPA. "These projects will provide community members the opportunity to interact and learn about nature right in their own neighborhood, forming an interest in the natural world that can last a lifetime."

The City of Belleville, Ill., will receive $109,000 to fund a 17,000-square-foot nature-themed play area within the 27-acre Bellevue Park. The area will tie into the lake at the park, and the city's summer day camp will use the area for play and outdoor education sessions on topics such as water, water fowl, butterflies and insects, trees, plants and more.

The Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority in Scranton, Pa., will receive $150,000 to build a trailhead park and playground along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, part of a trail system that extends more than 70 miles. The playground will feature elements that are ADA-compliant to be inclusive to children with disabilities as well as provide a water-learning experience to help instill a love and respect for the environment. The equipment chosen will be nature-based and environmentally friendly to enhance the landscape and the river adjacent to the project.

The Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District in Camarillo, Calif., will received $75,000 for the Camarillo Grove Park, an urban park and location for children to interact and learn about nature. The district is currently enhancing the only nature-based park in the area for the purpose of promoting outdoor education and environmental awareness. The funds will be used to assist in completing an outdoor interpretive nature center for school-aged children, which will be the only nature center of its kind within a 35-mile radius.

The Brunswick Redevelopment and Revitalization Committee in Brunswick, Mo., will receive $50,000 to expand the existing Brunswick Downtown Courtyard's water management area to develop natural play spaces and a venue for environmental education events. In 2012, with funding from Missouri American Water, the courtyard was built to promote water conservation via the use of rain gardens, rain barrels, downspouts and gutters. The success of the project has prompted the need to enlarge the area by an additional 6,000 square feet to include exploratory play features, firsthand observation/interaction features and an educational event venue.

"These four organizations were selected because they are particularly focused on fostering a greater sense of appreciation for the environment in a fun and engaging way that benefits children and families in the communities we serve," said Debra Vernon, manager, Corporate Responsibility and president of the American Water Charitable Foundation. "The projects will not only enhance the quality of life in our communities, but they will also encourage the continued viability of and appreciation for our nation's water resources."

For more information about this program, visit www.nrpa.org/BuildingBetterCommunities.