HANCOCK COUNTY — Officials have approved over $1 million in federal funds to more than 20 nonprofit organizations serving the county.

The planned distributions stem from the over $15 million in COVID-19 relief Hancock County is getting from the American Rescue Plan. County leaders earmarked $3 million for nonprofit organizations and the rest for infrastructure and mental health initiatives.

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners enlisted the Hancock County Community Foundation to guide the decision-making process for the funds for nonprofits. The community foundation recommended granting up to $1 million of the funds to those groups for proposals in two of three categories. One is rapid response, which includes projects small to moderate in scale, clear in scope and that could be accomplished in a year or less. The other category is mid-range, consisting of projects moderate to large in scale.

The three members of the county board of commissioners scored 62 applications across both categories on a scale of one to 10 before the community foundation averaged and ranked the scores. The result was 26 grants to 22 organizations ranging from $2,000 to $250,000. Before checks are cut, the Hancock County Auditor’s Office will confirm the distributions would align with the rules of the American Rescue Plan, which it plans to do by Aug. 15.

Once ranked, all of the applications didn’t fit perfectly into the $1 million target, so the county commissioners ended up approving $50,000 over in order to grant one applicant its full request rather than a partial.

One of the pending awards is $70,000 to Mental Health Partners of Hancock County for its behavior care assistance program. The organization provides financial assistance for county residents to receive mental health care like counseling, medication and recovery.

“We’re very appreciative of this opportunity and thankful to the commissioners for giving this to our organization,” said Kim Hall, executive director of Mental Health Partners of Hancock County.

Hall said the organization has always offered its program to county residents of any age, but expects the latest funding boost to be especially beneficial for younger people it serves. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she added, the organization didn’t have any students seeking assistance.

“Since COVID we now have parents asking for financial assistance for kids to receive mental health counseling,” Hall continued. “So it’s very important to get them on the right path of their life young.”

The Shirley Volunteer Fire Department is slated to get $100,000 to help with improvements and an addition to its fire station.

Fire Chief Andy Ebbert said he was excited to learn of the decision.

“This allows us to be able to move forward and not stretch every dollar to do every piece of the building,” he said.

The town bought the building the fire department operates out of in 1976, when it had three trucks. It now has seven, including two ambulances.

“We’ve expanded our services and replaced older trucks with new trucks, and those trucks have grown larger,” Ebbert said. “So we are going to be building a new apparatus bay onto the building that will be large enough to accommodate our larger fire apparatus.”

He added the new building will have floor drains, allowing for water to drain after truck washings and for snow in the winters. The addition will also have a system for evacuating exhaust, which will keep firefighters safer.

The fire department plans to remodel its current building into offices, a training area and locker rooms as well.

Ebbert said he’s grateful to the commissioners for their decision.

“Over the last couple years there’s been a big shift in the county’s attitude towards helping public safety entities in the county and (commissioners president) John Jessup’s been a big spearhead of that,” Ebbert said.

The commissioners expressed their gratitude to the community foundation for its help at their meeting last week.

“I couldn’t imagine having done this myself,” commissioner Bill Spalding told foundation representatives. “Your efforts are greatly appreciated.”

About $2 million of the county’s American Rescue Plan funds remains to be distributed to nonprofit organizations. The community foundation recommended reserving that amount for “transformational opportunities.”

“These proposals present a large-scale idea that would require the community foundation to convene multiple parties and facilitate in-depth planning before ready for an application phase,” community foundation president and CEO Mary Gibble told the county commissioners at last week’s meeting.

Gibble added she anticipates returning to the commissioners before the end of the year with applications in that category. The foundation has already been facilitating some, including in the areas of a shared space for nonprofits, an emergency shelter, an animal welfare surgery center and childcare.
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