Story by: Dashiell Coleman
For nearly a decade, Pat Laws has been dotting i’s and crossing t’s to make sure there’s money available to fund programs that help Gaston County residents.
Laws is the county’s grant administrator, and over the past nine years, her office has secured more than $18 million in funding that wouldn’t otherwise have been available. That’s money that provides mental health services to domestic violence victims, home rehabilitation and therapy for children who’ve witnessed traumatic events and a variety of other programs.
“I enjoy my job because I know these grants make a difference in people’s lives,” Laws said.
In many cases, the funding is crucial.
“It’s essential to provide services we may not could provide otherwise,” said Matt Rhoten, interim assistant county manager and Financial and Management Services director. “It takes the tax burden off the citizens and allows for us to offer programs and services we might not could offer otherwise without using property tax money or raising the tax rate to provide services that are drastically needed.”
Right now, the county is applying for several grants through the Governor’s Crime Commission, including one for $1.2 million to help fund a family justice center. That’s a major undertaking that the county has been working toward since late 2017.
Chief District Court Judge John Greenlee told The Gazette last year that the family justice center was “a different type of concept” — one that would put the most necessary services under one roof. The general idea is to bring together advocates, medical personnel, law enforcement, social workers and other key service providers to make the legal system easier to navigate for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Staff will find out later this year if the grant funding will come through, but it’s a major piece of the effort.
“Without it then it probably doesn’t happen,” Rhoten said. “That’s the reality.”
One of the most visible grant programs is one that funds home repairs for qualifying people in need. From 2016-2016, the county was awarded about 200,000 to make improvement on people’s homes via its Urgent Repair Program, and another $175,000 was awarded for 2018-2020.
The program lets recipient organizations to give deferred, forgivable loans of up to $8,000 for emergency repairs on low-income, owner-occupied homes. The average renovation runs $5,000-8,000 per home.
Marc Bolick, who manages Gaston’s housing-rehabilitation programs, says the county is currently administering essential single-family rehab grant funds.
“We take applications from qualifying applicants in low-income, special-need households during a specified time frame,” Bolick said. “The applicants are then ranked from a point system. (Single-family rehab) grants up to $25,000 are awarded to families with the highest points. Points are given if you’re 62 years or older, disabled, have a child 6 or under with lead hazards in the home, or a veteran.”
Through the programs, the county has rehabilitated more than 50 homes, Laws said.
“You can get $25,000 worth of repair work done so you can stay in your home, and you don’t have to move out or go into assisted living or your house is condemned or something because you don’t have running water,” Laws said. “Those are fairly rewarding grants.”
The county also just received a grant for more than $700,000 to partner with First Methodist Church to provide space for services for children who’ve been impacted by parents’ substance abuse. There’s been an increase over the past year in the number of children in county custody. Health and Human Services staff told The Gazette in November that drug use by parents was a driving factor in the increase in local kids needing foster care.
There are many other examples, including a grant for more than $1 million that connected people in the Queens community in the U.S. 321 corridor to city water and sewer, or the grants that fund the the county’s two 21st Century Community Learning Centers for school children.
Laws says grants are typically lengthy. Making a winning application requires research and a lot of writing.
“Generally, when I write a federal grant, the narrative will be 25 pages,” Laws said. “It’s like doing a research paper or dissertation.”