Friends, Neighbors and Fellow Upper Merion Area Residents:
We are now less than a month away from the April 1 application deadline for the Board of Community Assistance (BCA) grant and scholarship program.
The BCA and the funds it disburses was created as a result of agreements which township negotiated with our friends at Valley Forge Casino Resort. There are 5 members of the BCA – 3 are township residents, 2 are picked by the casino. These individuals review the dozens of applications the BCA receives each year and they make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors as to how to distribute funds the BCA receives from the casino. In the past few years these funds have amounted to approximately $150,000 per year however with the casino recently adding additional slot machines this number will increase by a relatively significant amount over the next two years. It’s also important to note the funds the BCA disburses are separate from the 2% from the slot machine and 1% from the table games which Upper Merion receives from the casino under Pennsylvania law.
There are two distinct categories of applicants who are eligible to receive funds from the BCA. The first group are graduating high school seniors who reside in Upper Merion Township and are interested in furthering their education at a college or trade school. As you may know, when I ran for Supervisor I campaigned specifically on this idea. Factors determining which applicants will receive scholarships includes but isn’t limited to financial need, academic merit, extra-curricular activities and/or involvement in the community, obstacles overcome and the quality of the community service project that’s being proposed. As part of the scholarship application students are required to provide official transcripts, copies of standardized test scores and letters of recommendation. Applicants should not underestimate the importance of the quality of the community service project as part of the BCA members decision-making process. Furthermore volunteer plans submitted with an organization committed to guaranteeing the volunteer project is performed will probably perform better than plans with no backing. Ideally any project should directly benefit residents of Upper Merion Township. The actual amount of community service hours which scholarship recipients are required to perform is a sliding scale based on size of the scholarship received. Prior to 2015 no applicant ever received more than a $5,000 scholarship. However, 3 years ago the BCA established the General Von Steuben Scholarship which provides one applicant each year with a $10,000 scholarship. Additionally, the BCA named a $5,000 scholarship after former township manager Ronald G. Wagenmann and the BCA provides at least one of those per year. No scholarship recipient ever physically touches the money since it’s deposited directly with their institution of higher learning. In the 6 year history of the BCA 133 students have received more than $272,000 in scholarships and last year BCA awarded more scholarship funds ($63,000) than ever before.
The second group of eligible applicants are non-profit and/or 501(c) organizations that provide services to Upper Merion Residents. This includes organizations which provide recreational, educational, protective, charitable and other types of services as well as Upper Merion Township citizens boards and committees. Actually, the rules that govern which organizations are eligible are intentionally very broad so as to allow each organization to best express why they should receive funds and for the members of the BCA to use their judgment to evaluate the applications. While the BCA strives to provide funding primarily to Upper Merion based groups the BCA also recognizes that some county organizations provide important services which benefit Upper Merion residents even if the organization isn’t actually physically located in Upper Merion. Laurel House, the Elmwood Park Zoo, the Literacy Council of Norristown and Mission Kids are good examples of this. The maximum any organization can receive is $20,000 though no organization has ever received more than $10,000 and there is a small yet important and symbolic matching fund requirement for organizations. In the 6 year history of the BCA organizations have received 187 grants worth more than $612,000. I encourage organizations which apply for funding every year to take note that BCA members are becoming increasingly cautious about awarding organizations a grant for the same project year after year. Additionally, applications containing specific project cost breakdowns and specific project details are usually viewed more favorably than applications filled with financial or project generalizations. Lastly I can’t emphasize enough the importance of grant recipients sending a member of their organization to the annual award ceremony, completing the year-end report and finishing their project within a year. Organizations that don’t do these are at a significant disadvantage to receive funding in the future.
I also want to stress that lobbying or knowing me or any other Supervisor does not make it more likely that an applicant will receive a scholarship or grant. The Supervisors don’t make the recommendations, that’s the responsibility of the BCA members and they work very hard to review the myriad of applications thoroughly. As liaison to the BCA I also read every application so I know the BCA members often make very difficult decisions. Also, the BCA can change what they’re looking for from year to year so a successful scholarship or grant applicant one year might not be successful in a different year.
The BCA application deadline is April 1 and it’s a firm deadline. Late applications are almost certain to be rejected. Applications must be filed every year and a successful or unsuccessful organization application in a previous year definitely doesn’t guarantee a similar result this year. The full text of the rules which governs the BCA and applications can be found by clicking this link and completed applications can be dropped off at the township building administration or submitted electronically. Please note that the application for scholarships is different than the organizational grant application. Award recipients will be announced at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting and they will also be notified by mail. Moreover the past few years I’ve posted the list of recipients on my Upper Merion Supervisor Greg Waks Facebook page shortly after the Board of Supervisors ratifies the recommendations and I anticipate doing the same this year. There will be an extremely nice ceremony at the Radisson to honor the recipients.
Good luck to all the applicants!