BY SCOTT STIFFLER | The COVID-19 precautions of sheltering in place and social distancing bring with them both the burdens of entropy and the opportunity for evolution. Either way, it’s not business as usual—and once we return to the days when sit-down trumps take-out, and browsing in a store is a viable choice to rival shopping with your browser, how many of our mom-and-pops will be there to open their doors?
Sadly, these valuable but vulnerable businesses—everything from restaurants to salons to food carts to retail shops—may be less eligible for federal stimulus loans that are keeping others afloat.
Seeking to correct that inequity and supplement other economic relief efforts, The West Side Small Business Grants (WSSBG) program was launched on April 23 of this year. Grant applications are now being accepted for “small businesses [of up to 10 employees] that have been economically hurt by COVID-19 and subsequent stay-at-home mandates,” noted a press release announcing the program. To access the application, click here.
“Nobody in our community has escaped the hardship brought on by this virus, which is why it’s vital that we work together to preserve our neighborhood,” said Michael Phillips, President of Jamestown and West Side Community Fund leader. “Today’s [April 23] announcement means essential money in the hands of small business leaders, so they can adapt their businesses or pay rents, insurance, employee wages and other costs.”
Citizens Committee for New York City (Citizens NYC), the press release further noted, will continue its longtime partnership with the West Side Community Fund (WSCF) by administering the grants, which will serve those in Chelsea, Hudson Yards, and Hell’s Kitchen.
Seeking further clarity regarding the fund’s scope and purpose, Chelsea Community News spoke with Scott Young, VP Development and Communications, Citizens NYC.
Scott Stiffler, for Chelsea Community News (CCN): How did Citizens NYC and WSCF come to establish the grant program, and how does its purpose align with, alter, and/or expand upon your overall mission?
Scott Young: Citizens Committee for New York City and the West Side Community Fund have a philanthropic partnership history. Back in 2018, the WSCF turned to Citizens Committee to design and launch its inaugural micro-grant program—the Chelsea and Hudson Yards Grants. These grants supported organizations that improve life for underserved West Side residents. The new COVID-19 relief program, the West Side Small Business Grants (WSSBG), is also aligned with our mission to provide funds quickly to the most vulnerable and underserved members of these NYC neighborhoods. The focus here is on small businesses that are struggling right now, rather than non-profits and community groups, but the philosophical mission of helping the community is the same.
CCN: What is the amount of funding available? What factors go into deciding, and who is involved in that process? [Note: Young declined our request to specify the current amount available to WSSBG]
YOUNG: Regarding funding: So far, Google, IAC, Jamestown, Tapestry Inc.’s Coach Foundation, TimeWarner, and Wells Fargo Foundation have supported the WSSBG. We are continuing our fundraising efforts in order to provide more support for local small businesses. The grants are intended to support the most vulnerable businesses. Applications from businesses that are owned by immigrants, people of color, and women will be prioritized, as well as ones that innovate to address the new circumstances. Citizens Committee’s staff reviews and makes grant recommendations, and the West Side Community Fund and local elected officials offer insight.
CCN: Awards “will be announced on a rolling basis,” notes the April 23 press release. When will the first wave of grants be announced, and what is the turnaround time between getting the grant and receiving the funds?
YOUNG: The first round of grants will be announced the week of May 11. We hope to continue reviewing applications every two weeks until the funds have been expended. Citizens Committee’s size and seasoned experience in grant administration enables our organizations to deliver these funds quickly and nimbly.
CCN: Once awarded, how are recipients accountable for the manner in which the grant is used?
YOUNG: Accountability is built into the scaffolding of both the grant application and grant management.
CCN: What sort of “additional support for business owners through workshops and coaching” can recipients expect? Past providing help to facilitate the reopening of New York, will there be long-term assistance available, both financial and educational?
YOUNG: In addition to Citizens Committee’s slate of Neighborhood Leadership Institute workshops, Grow with Google is offering the below two private workshops for grant recipients as well as one-on-one coaching from Google volunteers. Each year, Citizens Committee regularly coaches and guides promising grassroots volunteers to aim for bigger, long-term impact and we are happy to be partnering with Grow with Google to offer special small business education.
CCN: There will be a long period of returning, exiting, and newly opened businesses once New York is reopened—and, possibly, shuttered again in another wave of COVID-19 precautions. Is there a plan in place for that, via WSSBG or other initiatives to come?
YOUNG: Citizens Committee is uniquely positioned to serve the needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers and is committed to its mission of improving quality of life in our city. Additionally, we have a history of responding quickly to crises, and this one is no different. The West Side Community Fund will continue supporting the local residents of the West Side, and working with Citizens Committee to develop our long-term strategy as events unfold. No matter what, we’re here to serve the needs of New Yorkers’ most vulnerable.
Go to citizensnyc.org/grants/west-side-small-business-grants to learn more about the West Side Small Business Grants program and apply.
About the West Side Community Fund | Founded in 2018 with the goal of supporting underserved residents in Chelsea and Hudson Yards, the West Side Community Fund has provided 56 grants for community improvement projects benefiting more than 38,000 residents. The Fund continues to develop long-lasting relationships with community leaders to better serve and understand the needs of those residents. In the last thirteen months alone, WSCF, with support from 21 corporate funders, awarded over $430,000 in grants to local organizations, community groups and residents.
About Citizens Committee for New York City | Citizens Committee for New York City’s mission is to help New Yorkers—especially those in low-income areas—come together and improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Since 1975, they have promoted the spirit of volunteerism, local engagement, and social justice that drives their work. Residents are uniquely situated to define and act on the issues affecting their communities. When provided with modest support, neighborhood and school groups can effectively mobilize with the assistance of grants, skills-building workshops, project planning assistance and an equipment share library. In 2019, Citizens NY provided 596 projects with $2.3 million in grants and services, impacting more than 130,000 residents in 164 different neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Go to citizensnyc.org to learn more.
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