Grant funding boosts Putnam organizations


11 groups receive $146,900 in funds
from Frank V. Oliver Jr. Endowment

  • Baby Brain Builders was one of 11 organizations receiving grants from the Frank V. Oliver Jr. Endowment for Putnam County.
    Baby Brain Builders was one of 11 organizations receiving grants from the Frank V. Oliver Jr. Endowment for Putnam County.
  • Positively Putnam FL
    Positively Putnam FL

Eleven Putnam County nonprofits and organizations have been awarded a combined $146,900 in grant funding from the Frank V. Oliver Jr. Endowment for Putnam County by the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

Oliver was a longtime Putnam County resident, philanthropist and entrepreneur who died in 2010.

He left an endowment, managed by the Community Foundation, to provide grants that improve communities with philanthropy.

Baby Brain Builders received $10,000 in its first year applying for a gift.

The nonprofit provides the parents of infants and young children with “Brain Bags’’ filled with books and other items that assist with language development.

Some of the bag’s books outline developmental goals during the child’s first year and safe sleeping arrangements. Other items provide help with choosing a childcare center, how to reach a child through language, screen time guidelines and nutritional and physical goals. 

Baby Brain Builders President Angela Mills said the brain developed more in the ages of 0 to 3 than any other time in a person’s lifetime. She encouraged parents to talk and have face-to-face interactions with children early on in their development.

“The brain is more malleable at a young age,” Mills said. “Part of that is reaching them at an earlier age.”

With Putnam Community Medical Center no longer offering childbirth services, Mills said Baby Brain Builders was reaching out to pediatricians, obstetricians and day care centers.

“We’re trying to reach caregivers any way we can,” she said.

Lift Putnam Executive Director Mike Perry said his organization’s $15,000 grant would go a long way in sending students to pre-K. Lift Putnam identifies families that don’t have the economic means to send a child to a full-day pre-K school, he said.

Perry said grants were more crucial during this pandemic, with the budgets of people and businesses having been tightened. 

He said the organization could currently send 42 children to pre-K and its goal is 60 children.

“In the age of (COVID-19), we rely more on grants to fulfill our mission and the Frank V. Oliver grant is critical to fulfill that mission,” Perry said. “Many people would like to donate and assist children in the community, but the money simply isn’t there right now.”

The Community Foundation administers the money to applicants through a competitive process, senior program director Mark LeMaire said. He said the COVID-19 pandemic was an unusual time for grantmaking.

The three priorities of the foundation are hunger, education and veterans. Three criteria the foundation sought was if the grant funds could start, expand or improve services at a nonprofit. 

This is the foundation’s first year awarding multi-year grants, which LeMaire said helped nonprofits to plan.

“We had to be creative in terms of site visits and things like that,” LeMaire said. “They’re just swamped with need, now more than ever. We had to move as quickly as we could. Hopefully, these dollars will go a long way.”

Habitat for Humanity will receive $20,000 over two years to help with its Veterans Village project, five homes for veterans near Westover Drive. Ramicah Johnson, Putnam County Habitat for Humanity executive director, said when it comes to grant writing, contributions can lead to other contributions.

“It’s been such a blessing,” Johnson said.

“There’s no way we could have pulled it off without their financial support.”

Johnson said the two-year grant eased Habitat’s workload.

“I love that they did it for two years, so we don’t have to apply next year,” Johnson said. “We’re blessed and thankful for Mr. Oliver’s legacy. What he did was such a big help to so many nonprofits.”

The following organizations also received money from the endowment.

  •  A 2-year, $20,000 grant to Community Hospice & Palliative Care. 
  •  A 2-year, $20,000 grant to Foundation for Rural Education Excellence.
  •  A $10,000 grant to Heart of Putnam Food Pantry Inc. 
  •  A $10,000 grant to Putnam County Bread of Life.
  •  A $10,000 grant to Rodeheaver Boys Ranch for a new RBR Jobs Program.
  •  A $10,000 grant to South Putnam Christian Service Center.
  •  A $6,000 grant to St. Johns River State College to support a second year of tuition for three returning first-year Frank V. Oliver Scholarship students.
  •  A 2-year, $15,900 grant to UNF C.A.M.P. Osprey to expand a mentoring program.

“I thought we had an amazing group of applicants and we had to make tough decisions because of that,” LeMaire said.