Friends, Neighbors and Fellow Upper Merion Area Residents:
We are now a little more than 2 months 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 picked by the Board of Supervisors and must be 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 these funds have amounted to approximately $150,000 per year however due to a change in the commonwealth’s gaming laws which permitted more slot machines at Valley Forge Casino Resort the amount the BCA will have to distribute will increase by a relatively significant amount in 2020 – in the neighborhood of $180,000 to $190,000. It’s also important to note the funds the BCA disburses are separate from the 2% from the slot machines 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. Prior to 2015 no applicant ever received more than a $5,000 scholarship. However, 4 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 bestows at least one of these per year. No scholarship recipient ever physically touches the money since it’s deposited directly with their institution of higher learning. In the 7 year history of the BCA 151 students have received more than $325,000 in scholarships. 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. I cannot stress enough that applicants should not underestimate the importance of the quality of the community service project as part of the BCA members decision-making process. The amount of time an applicant must commit to performing the volunteer project is dependent on the amount of the scholarship. Here are some of the factors the BCA members have used when examining the community service project though the criteria can always be modified:
- Does the project benefit the residents of Upper Merion Township and/or fulfill a need in the community, and if so, how much?
- Does the project occur in Upper Merion? Does the project occur near Upper Merion? Does the project occur in a distant community which might be convenient for the applicant but minimizes the benefit of the project to Upper Merion residents?
- Is there an organization (governmental or non-governmental) backing or overseeing the project and its performance?
- Is the proposed project realistic?
- Is the project unique?
- Does the applicant have the skills which would allow him/her to complete this project?
- Does the application reflect an understanding that the BCA project is separate and apart from any other project the applicant is required to complete or will be working on including the applicant’s senior year high school project?
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. In the 7 year history of the BCA organizations have received 225 grants worth more than $710,000 and while the BCA provides funding primarily to Upper Merion based groups the BCA also recognizes that some county or regional 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 and there is a small yet important and symbolic matching fund requirement for organizations. 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 details and cost breakdowns 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. Grant 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. Additional information on the BCA and the 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 either the April or May Board of Supervisors business 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. As always there will be an extremely nice ceremony at the Radisson to honor the recipients.
Good luck to all the applicants!