Are you working on environmental justice solutions in Philly? This new grant could help

Projects addressing heat, flooding, air pollution, litter, food insecurity, or other issues could be eligible.

A photo of the Philadelphia skyline taken in October, 2021

Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A new grant launched this month will fund environmental justice solutions led by the people closest to the problems.

“We are looking to remove barriers,” said Joyce Lee, a sustainability and wellness consultant and member of the Philadelphia Environmental Justice Advisory Commission. “We want it to be community-driven and we want it to be led by folks who are most affected, with a focus on youth.”

The fund, designed by the commission and Office of Sustainability, is offering grants of $10,000 to 15 organizations or projects this year. Applications will be accepted through July 26.

The grant will fund projects working toward long-term environmental justice, interpreted broadly.

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“When we’re imagining an environmentally just Philadelphia, we want all residents to have access to clean air, land, and water,” said Justina Thompson, program strategist for environmental justice in the Office of Sustainability.  “Healthy, fresh, and culturally appropriate foods. Homes, jobs and neighborhoods that are free from pollution and toxins. And then communities that are resilient to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and extreme heat.”

Work that improves community health — for example by boosting access to green space, increasing neighborhood walkability, or cleaning up trash and litter — also falls under the umbrella of environmental justice, said Genevieve LaMarr LeMee, senior advisor for environmental justice in the Office of Sustainability.

“We know that there’s folks that have been doing this work for a long time in the city of Philadelphia,” LaMarr LeMee said. “It’s important for the city to be directly resourcing organizations … that have really been leading this work and have a lot of expertise in their communities and understand where there should be investment. Also knowing that [environmental justice] communities have faced historic disinvestment.”

Activities eligible for funding include coalition building, community organizing, hiring consultants, community-driven planning, education, or project implementation.

To be eligible, organizations or community groups must be located in Philly and serve Philadelphians experiencing environmental injustices, must be led by the people most affected by the issues being addressed, and must either have 501(c)3 status or partner with a 501c3 fiscal sponsor.

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The Advisory Commission plans to focus on projects led by or serving youth.

“We hear loud and clear … that adults are more complacent,” Lee said. “So we really want to invest into this future of youth development.”

School-based youth groups are encouraged to apply, but must find a 501(c)3 to work with.

The fund aims to remove barriers to accessing grant dollars that many smaller, newer, or more grassroots organizations face. These include needing to demonstrate past receipt or management of grant money.

The environmental justice grant application is easier to fill out than many grant applications, LaMarr LeMee said, and is available in Spanish and simplified Chinese.

“Our hope is that this is kind of seed funding,” LaMarr LeMee said. “This will be, for many people, their first grant, which then helps them go after other grant dollars.”

An info session geared specifically toward first-time grant applicants will be held June 29 at 12 p.m. A general information session about the grants will be held June 26 at 6 p.m. Both will have live interpretation in Spanish and Chinese.

Grant recipients will be notified in September, and the funds will be distributed shortly after, officials said. The money must be spent within 12 months.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget funds the grant program for five years. The program is also supported by the William Penn Foundation.

Officials with the Office of Sustainability and members of the Advisory Commission say they see this year’s round as an opportunity to hone a program that serves organizations historically shut out of funding opportunities. They may tweak the program next year, for example, by removing the requirement that grant recipients have 501(c)3 status or partner with a fiscal sponsor that does.

“We are really eager to receive feedback right now … so that we can take all of that and figure out how to make the next round more accessible,” LaMarr LeMee said.

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