Merrill, Hackett grant continues to help families

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BELOIT - Community Action staff say they are blown away by the number of families they've been able to help over the last two years as part of a federally funded grant program focused on the Merrill and Hackett neighborhoods.

In September of 2017, the city approved creating the Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas (NRSA) plan to fight rising blight, poverty and unemployment.

In its first full year of serving families with access to temporary housing, employment resources and basic supplies like clothing and school supplies, the program helped 34 families. This year, the program has helped 51 families, according to Community Action Planning and Development Director Marc Perry.

The effort allows changes to the city's consolidated plan to provide easier access to grant funding for both neighborhoods. The effort allocates federal funds ($50,000 annually) to improve public safety, revitalize the neighborhoods through more social services programming and affordable housing options, while supporting resident empowerment.

Perry said the program's goal was to help 20 families a year, noting he was surprised and heartened by residents feeling confident enough to ask for help.

"It's tough to ask for help," Perry said. "Everyone has a lot of pride when it comes to that. But we feel lucky enough to have been able to create a space where people feel safe and welcomed to get the help they need to get back on their feet."

Perry and Community Action Resource Navigator Angie Reyes said it's been frustrating when Beloit residents who don't live in the two neighborhoods come to the Merrill Community Center asking for help, with the federal funding contingent on going towards residents in the specified NRSA neighborhoods.

"That's tough because there are people all over the city who need help," Reyes said. "So we try to get those people in touch with other agencies that might be able to assist them."

The NRSA effort hasn't been taken on solely by Community Action, with over 40 Beloit and Milwaukee-area service providers pitching in to connect residents with resources.

Perry said word of mouth has helped boost program participation.

"I don't know if we knew what to expect when the conversation started about starting all of this," Perry said. "We weren't sure people would be willing to come in."

Upcoming at Merrill:

• Back To School free clothing drive from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Aug. 30 (donations for boys clothing ages 5-15 still needed).

• Sept. 9 ACTS Housing will partner with the Porter Avenue Watch Group for a workshop on job preparedness and home ownership (time not yet set).

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