This guest post is from Dana Textoris, Director of Client Engagement, Grants Plus

At a time when the nonprofit community is bracing for cuts to federal grant funding programs and state budgets, it's empowering to remember that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens really can change the world.

Since President Trump released his budget proposal, public education advocates are fearful of what cuts would mean for urban school districts like the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

It's not just public schools under threat: out-of-school programs could also be defunded if the president succeeds in axing the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program. Across the country, 1.6 million children nationwide, mostly poor, could lose access to these programs if they're defunded. State education departments pass through these federal grant dollars to schools, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and other entities to run before- and after-school, as well as summertime, programs and activities.

But the nearly 300 Ohio organizations that receive 21st Century grant dollars didn't need to wait for Trump's budget to fear for the future of their programs or the children they serve. In January, word got out that the Ohio Department of Education was canceling plans to award new 21st Century grant dollars for the 2017-2018 school year - putting prospective and renewing grantees in a state of panic.

"Suddenly, 134 organizations expecting to re-apply for these funds this year realized they weren't going to be able to provide a safe place for kids out of school," explains Edward Stockhausen, Chief Advancement Officer for Open Doors Academy. "We knew we needed to do something - fast."

Open Doors Academy (ODA) operates 13 out-of-school sites in Greater Cleveland for at-risk middle- and high-school students, including ten funded largely by 21st Century grants. 100% of ODA's middle school participants succeed in graduating from high school.

ODA quickly mounted a grassroots effort to convince state leaders to reinstate the FY18 21st Century grant program. Within days, a coordinated alliance of ODA staff, board members, students, parents, and concerned community members were equipped and ready to take action.

"We knew it was important to provide our folks with three things: the simple facts to understand the situation, a clear script to follow, and the phone numbers of specific lawmakers to call," says Edward.

The ODA team created a one-page fact sheet with this information. They shared it with their staff and Board insiders and also posted it on Facebook to engage their donors, volunteers, and others. As participation grew, the campaign gained media attention and lawmakers took notice.

Edward describes how this rush of activity paid off. "It all happened within a matter of a few weeks. We decided to take action. We reached out to members of the community. They stood up - and it worked."

As a result of ODA's campaign and similar grassroots efforts by organizations across the state, the Ohio Department of Education reversed its decision. A response issued by the department on January 31, 2017 explains: "In response to recent feedback received from educators, administrators and others, we want to give you a better sense of when applications for new grants will resume. Our current plan is to be ready for local districts to be able to apply for new 21st Century Community Learning Center grants by early May."

Edward encourages other organizations to be vocal in the face of possible cuts to government grant funding, and to be emboldened by what's at stake. "We really can make a difference, right here in our local communities, about what's happening at the federal level. Don't underestimate how much power you can create by inviting your Boards, your donors, your partners to speak up about what they believe in."

About the Author(s)

Dana Textoris Director of Growth and Strategy Grants Plus

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