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Miguel Garces

I started a microgrant program.


February 18, 2016




Fall 2014

When Miguel applied to CPI, he wanted to “find ways to play a more active role in actually understanding the community’s needs and how the zoning process can play a role to meet those needs.” He has taken impressive steps towards advancing those goals since graduating! A neighborhood microgrant program, which started out as his CPI course project, is now up and running and quite successful.

In his CPI course project, Miguel identified that his civic, Newbold Neighbors Association (NNA) did not have the money or time to conduct a formal neighborhood planning process. Instead, he proposed “a different method, more akin to crowdsourcing, which attempts to harness the creativity of the community” and “cultivat[ing] a planning attitude from which we can later draw inspiration.”

What does that mean? In Miguel’s case it meant proposing and creating a neighborhood microgrant program, to which local community members could apply to do small projects that further the core values of NNA: improve public safety, beautify the neighborhood, support sustainable development, promote local businesses, provide greener streets, help reach new residents, and foster smart planning and zoning.

Since graduating CPI, Miguel has worked with NNA to give away $1,000 in small grants!

Did the grant achieve its goals? We think the results speak for themselves! See below for the four projects they chose to fund.

Excerpt and photos from the 2015 Newbold Neighbors Microgrant Program Report:

1. Rachel Brennesholtz – Neighborhood Sno Cones
Rachel’s project was to buy a sno cone machine that would be owned by NNA and could be used for block parties and other NNA events. We used the machine for a number of events, including one hosted by the Philadelphia Film Festival and two “NNA Night Out” events at Pep Bowl.

2. Hani White -Haiqal’s Garden
Hani’s proposal was to print a self-published book meant to teach young children the joys of urban gardening. The Thomas Aquinas Child Care Program, School, and Church serves approximately 200 Indonesian children and their families. This is an under-served, yet very industrious, energetic group of people, with the capacity to contribute skills, money, and cultural richness to the neighborhood. The Haiqal’s Garden Early Literacy and Gardening Project had two objectives: 1) to educate children, families, and early childhood educators about the benefits of home gardening; and 2) to strengthen both the home language, Indonesian, and the second language, English. Hani read the newly-published children’s picture book, Haiqal’s Garden, in English and Indonesian, to preschool children at St. Thomas Aquinas institution, then engaged children, parents and staff in a simple seed planting activity.

3. Bethany Welch – Fernon15
Fernon15 is a collaborative effort to jumpstart revitalization on the 1700 block of Fernon Street. The south side of the block is part of the St. Thomas Aquinas/Aquinas Center campus and the north side is residential homes and vacant lots where blighted homes have been demolished. The group bought three small barrels, plants, and fencing. The teens and a visiting youth group used rubble, downed tree limbs, and pallets from the vacant lot to create a barrier to discourage dumping. The group is now aiming for an autumn block party of some kind and revisiting lot acquisition for a full scale garden project with greenhouse.

4. Megan Rosenbach – Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary Garden
There have been a number of neighborhood cleanups at the Childs Elementary School garden, and funds from NNA have supported buying supplies, mulch, and flowers. The garden used to be a littered with graffiti and garbage, but it looks much better today and has encouraged tons of community participation.

If you’re not sure what next steps to take, just ask your neighbors! Miguel Garces

Update, 12/06/21

CPI lessons helped Greg’s nonprofit, the Philadelphia Community Corps (PCC), make a bigger impact in the city. While reducing abandoned housing and creating jobs through deconstruction and salvage is still their goal, the PCC is growing and adapting to new challenges.

Originally, Greg was serving as Executive Director while leading trainee crews. The dueling responsibilities spread him too thin. In 2018, they changed their model. They started referring jobs to contractors and lowered the number of trainees in a group. Now trainees are working alongside potential employers. This transformed the experience into an internship structure and improved job placement rates.

Before, we were competing against the demo contractors for jobs. Now they’re our friends. We send them a lot of jobs, and vice versa!

In this new model, the PCC collaborates with other contractors to help transform Philadelphia’s demolition industry into one that is sustainable and creates jobs.

Learning about the city’s Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) in CPI helped Greg navigate lead conversations between residents communities and developers. Greg says two common causes of tension are the community’s desire to preserve architectural history and creating more local jobs locally. The PCC solves both of those problems in a way that improves the real estate developer’s bottom line. When it comes to historic preservation, Greg says if they can’t save the building, they can at least save the skilled craftsmanship and “embodied energy” in them.

We come in as sort of a compromise, a bridge, between these two communities. We’re the win-win.

Before the pandemic, the PCC moved their reuse center, Philly Reclaim, to a bigger warehouse. Their new location in Tacony is a 20,000 square foot space. There, Philly Reclaim sells salvage and reclaimed materials back to the community at a discounted price. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Philly Reclaim launched its own Covid-relief effort by giving out $100 e-coupons. By the end of 2020, they’d given out over $30,000 worth of building materials.

It was worth it to us to get people to the new location, clear out inventory to make room for new donations, and help people work on their homes during a tough time.

The PCC Founded started in Philadelphia, the PCC but is now they’re working on projects from the Jersey Shore to the Main Line. They are seeing an increased demand from people who see deconstruction tax deductions as a sustainable benefit to their bottom-line and community.

When we last spoke with Miguel, he shared how his CPI final project motivated him to begin a Neighborhood Microgrant Program. Together with his local neighborhood association, The Microgrant Committee helped fund several neighborhood projects. One of those projects was “Neighborhood Snow Cones.” With microgrant funding, Miguel and his neighbors were able to purchase a snow cone machine. This machine proved to be a great investment and snow cones are still part of the neighborhood’s annual celebrations today! But, as Miguel says, “Of course it’s not about the snow cones, it’s about bringing neighbors together to build partnerships.”

Now, the Microgrant Committee has disbanded. Its members have refocused their efforts towards supporting ongoing revitalization projects and engaging neighbors in conversation about “what the neighborhood truly values.” They discovered that neighbors especially value green space and promoting an inclusive community. An example of this is “Manton Green,” a green space located at the corner of 17th and Manton Street. As Miguel says, “the purpose of the space is to beautify the neighborhood, and provide a space for neighbors to meet and talk.” For several years now, Miguel and his neighbors have used Manton Green to host neighborhood events–including a Juneteenth celebration which took place this past summer.

Another outcome of engaging with neighbors, was the renaming their neighborhood association. Their original name, Newbold Neighbors Association, was dividing the neighbors, so Miguel and his teammates initiated a neighborhood consensus building process to find a replacement. They hosted several community meetings and landed on East Point Breeze Neighbors (EPBN).

When asked if he had any lesson to share, Miguel says “If you’re not sure what next steps to take, just ask your neighbors! The input we received from the microgrant project helped us to identify what issues were most important to us.”

Check out some photos of Manton Green and East Point Breeze’s Juneteenth celebration below!