East Central Illinois groups vying for grants both large and small

East Central Illinois groups vying for grants both large and small

Several area organizations are vying for money in the latest round of the Pepsi Refresh Project.

The project allows community members to vote for projects through Nov. 30. The top vote-getters are awarded money. Project supporters are allowed 10 votes each day, and you can vote via Facebook, text and online.

Organizations hoping for funding this month include the Orpheum Children's Science Museum; SmileHealthy, which provides dental care for low-income families in Champaign County; the Potomac Pantry, a food pantry; the University of Illinois Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability; and Viewfinders, an organization started by a graduate student to empower young people through digital photos.

The organizations are pursuing grants in different amounts, from $5,000 to $250,000. The top 10 vote-getters in all sections are awarded grants except those pursuing $250,000 in grant money; in that category, which includes the Orpheum, the top two vote-getters win.

Pursuing $5,000 grants are:

– The Potomac Pantry, which would use the money to buy large, efficient freezers and refrigerators in order to keep perishables longer.

Darlene Brooks, one of the pantry's co-founders, said food pickup dates from the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and another source in Bloomington don't always correlate with distribution.

They want to be able to keep the appropriate food cold or frozen, she said.

"This would enable us to get food and keep it," Brooks said. She said she's found that allowing votes via text has helped participation.

You can see the pantry's page on Pepsi's website. Or you can text the number 100077 to Pepsi (73774).

– Viewfinders, founded by John Knorek, a UI doctoral student studying counseling and psychology. It's his goal to enable youth by giving them digital cameras, teaching them how to take photos and giving them a website where they can post photos.

"We use the medium of digital photography to have youth explore their communities, the context of where they're from and to better understand what it means," Knorek said. He has plans to host workshops to teach kids about photography and to develop curriculum for teachers.

Knorek said if Viewfinders wins, the money will be used to improve his website, viewfindersworld.org. That will contribute toward becoming an actual nonprofit, he said, which will in turn allow corporations to donate cameras for kids. Grant money would also be used to put on workshops and to buy cameras. To vote for Viewfinders, visit online or text 103518 to 73774.

Pursuing a $25,000 grant is:

– The UI's Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability, for its Naturally Illinois Expo, an event that includes exhibits, demonstrations, activities and access to scientists who study topics relating to water, energy, mineral resource, natural hazards, climate and more. If it wins, it would use the money to expand the event and provide transportation to underprivileged groups.

Libby Johnston, the communications director at the institute, said the expo operates on volunteer labor and money it raises, rather than state or university funding.

"We saw this as an opportunity to obviously raise some more money," Johnston said. "We thought it was a very important kind of community event to help people learn more about science and about the state of Illinois and the work that we do to support the state."

Help with transportation is an important goal, Johnston said, because "it's hard for schools to pay for transportation for student outings these days."

The grant would also help the institute provide more materials for students and teachers, similar to booklets they've already developed for students.

To vote for the institute and the Naturally Illinois Expo, visit online or text 102812 to 73774.

Pursuing a $50,000 grant is:

– SmileHealthy, which provides dental care for low-income families in Champaign County. The effort was put together by interns this summer, said Nancy Greenwalt, SmileHealthy's executive director.

If the organization wins, the money will be used toward expanding mobile dental clinics with staff members and equipment.

Greenwalt said mobile clinics go wherever there's a need.

"We take dental care to just about anywhere," she said, including county grade schools, Lincoln's Challenge and the Frances Nelson Health Center in Champaign.

To vote for SmileHealthy, visit online or text 103833 to 73774.

Pursuing a $250,000 grant is:

– The Orpheum Children's Science Museum, which would use the money to continue restoring the theater so it can be used for performing-arts and science programs.

"Our goal is to rehabilitate and restore the theater," said Deb Israel, the operations director. And while some extensive work has already been completed, the theater doesn't have heating or air-conditioning systems, and the stage isn't operable, she said. The museum would use the grant to restore the stage and put in fire-safety systems.

Then, she said, the theater could be used as a home for performing-arts groups that don't necessarily have one, such as Champaign Urbana Ballet or the Central Illinois Children's Chorus.

"We would have an auditorium that would seat 600 comfortably," Israel said. Being able to use the theater space would also allow for "some fabulous traveling exhibits" to come through, she said, and for "more expansive science and arts programming."

To vote for the Orpheum, visit online or text 104149 to 73774.