Clarion Blueprint Community Hoping to Expand
(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
According to Clarion Blueprint Community President Brenda Sanders-Dede, they are currently working on formalizing partnerships with Clarion County, Clarion Borough, and Clarion University through memorandums of understanding, among other projects.
“The Housing Authority is also working with us and they can get additional money to fund their projects because Clarion is a Blueprint Community,” Sanders-Dede explained.
Developed by the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) Pittsburgh, the the Blueprint Communities initiative gives participating groups access to not only training and assistance with revitalization projects, but also access to a variety of funding opportunities from grants to loans.
The initiative was developed with assistance from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center which provides outreach, technical assistance, and educational services in order to assist communities in revitalizing their central business districts and surrounding residential neighborhoods.
“The PA Downtown Center has been instrumental in helping us,” noted Sarah MacBeth, Treasurer/Secretary for the Clarion Blueprint Community.
“There’s only so many Blueprint Communities in Pennsylvania, and basically they were identified as needing revitalization, and there’s a lot of criteria that goes into it.”
After organizing their core group, consisting of an executive committee of individuals from the county, university, borough, and community, they began training and working toward several projects, while also working to build the group into a more cohesive entity.
“We have a constitution and bylaws and a mission statement. We’re soon going to have a logo,” Sanders-Dede said.
One of their initial projects included a signage project that resulted in one sign near the Starbucks location on Main Street, and another sign that will be put up on River Hill.
However, since then, they’ve also already assisted in two major projects in Clarion: the development of Clarion River Brewing Company, which received some funding assistance through the help of the Blueprint Community, and Regency Commons, the new affordable senior housing project under construction along South Fifth Avenue.
“The Housing Authority was able to get money and get the Hudson Group involved because Clarion is a Blueprint Community and they got money from the Federal Home Loan Bank to finance the project, and the Hudson Company also works through Federal Home Loan Banks,” Sanders-Dede said.
Regency Commons will serve ages 62 and over that are below the area median income with restricted rents. The $13 million project is a low-income tax credit program through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). It is not HUD Section 8 Housing. It will be managed by the Clarion County Housing Authority (CCHA), who will also provide supportive services to all residents including health screens and educational opportunities.
According to Sanders-Dede, the Housing Authority is also currently looking at some additional projects that would be funded through the FHLB funding available to Blueprint Communities.
It isn’t just the funding sources that separate a Blueprint Community from some other similar programs, such as the Main Street Program, another revitalization effort through the Pennsylvania Downtown Center. Sanders-Dede noted that a primary difference in the two programs is that the Main Street Program would focus only on Main Street and areas feeding directly into Main Street, while the Blueprint Community initiative allows them to take on projects anywhere in the community.
The Clarion Blueprint Community team is currently preparing for a special Breakfast event, which is being held from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at the Bistro at Water Run Landing in Clarion on Wednesday, November 13, to introduce interested community members to more of what their organization is all about.
“One of the reasons for the breakfast now is because we’ve heard people say ‘well we didn’t know the Blueprint was still working’ and yeah, we are,” Sanders-Dede noted.
“The purpose of the breakfast is to introduce people to what the Blueprint Community is currently working on, what our initiatives are, and what we’re looking forward to in the future,” MacBeth added.
“We also need to get people aware and involved in the group. We’re relying on volunteer hours, and a lot of times when you have an organization such as hours that relies on volunteers, it does require a lot of manpower and time input, so there are projects in place right now to help with those, so if we get more people involved, hopefully we can get more projects done.”
Tickets for the event are $9.75 at the door and include a breakfast buffet.
According to Sanders-Dede and McBeth, another reason for the event is that the Clarion Blueprint Community is currently in a stage where they need more community members involved to help the project grow.
“We’d like to grow the group a little bit in terms of committees, invite people in, have them work in their areas of expertise. While we may have some really great community leaders in our group, we still lack some of the possible skills or expertise or knowledge that we need for grant proposals, budget wiring, what projects are even going on in the community. If we get more members of the community to tell us what their take is and what they’d like to see, hopefully that will lead to a better future for Clarion,” McBeth said.
Bill Fontana, the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, will be a guest speaker at the event.
“He has been helping us get on the right path and opening us up to what kind of grant funding we can get and what programs are out there. His knowledge is just amazing and he’s been helping us quite a bit,” McBeth said.
While they need more community volunteers, the Clarion Blueprint Community is also hoping to be able to bring their first official employee on board soon.
According to McBeth, they have received a grant to help them hire an employee, and while the funding isn’t enough for a full time position, they are currently working with the Clarion County Housing Authority to possibly create a shared position. The employee would work for both entities, and handle things like funding research, grant proposals, and community awareness efforts.
The Blueprint Community also has several other projects in the works, including one for additional signage in town to highlight downtown shopping opportunities, another to create workshops to assist local nonprofit organizations in finding funding sources, and a third project working on additional training and workshops. They will also soon have a subscription to the U.S. Foundation Directory of grants.
“There are so many things we’re looking to work on, and we can only do those little steps right now, but the more manpower we can get, the bigger things can be, and I think it’ll have a domino effect,” McBeth said.
“All these little steps we’re taking will hopefully be to that end and to improve the lives of Clarion’s citizens. If we can be that little hub to get things started, we’re kind of hoping this will explode into something that will be so good that people will want to see what Clarion is all about.”
For more information about the Clarion Blueprint Community, check out their Facebook page, or email email@example.com.
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