Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

Since 2018, dozens of local residents have received $500 grants that have allowed them to make Santa Monica a better place for all residents.

In the months since the checks were gifted and some Santa Monicans realized a dream they once thought was impossible, the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Civic Wellbeing has closed due to COVID-19 budget cuts, meaning the microgrant program was at risk of becoming obsolete. But residents like Catalina Langen, Julie Rusk and Claire Lemoine felt their work was needed now more than ever so they have returned as the Civic Wellbeing Partners and are currently welcoming residents to submit another round of applications that are due at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25.

It may seem as though there’s not enough time to submit all the required materials for the microgrant project, which aims to fund smart ideas that are scalable and action-oriented, but Langen said Wednesday if you are a resident who has an idea related to a prospective business, program or initiative that could improve the wellbeing of residents throughout the Westside, then you should participate in a Drop-In Workshop occurring from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24.

The Zoom link is available online at santamonicawellbeing.org, Langen said. “And we’re holding it so residents get some one-on-one assistance with their application or to talk over their idea. It’s just another opportunity if they wanted help filling out their application last minute; that’s what we’re there for.”

In previous iterations of the microgrants, residents, young and old, were selected to bring their ideas to life. Monika Armendariz said she was honored to teach locals the inner workings of business permits and jewelry making last year, while Tyson Clark, a youth grant recipient in round two, added he was ecstatic to be able to pick up more than 1,000 pounds of trash at a park alongside others who wanted to make a difference in the community.

“The first round, we focused a lot on community connection and inclusion, so there were a lot of events and activities to bring the community together because we know social connection is such a foundational element in wellbeing,” Rusk said. “And then in the second round, we really focused on economic opportunity and economic pathways. Because, again, we understand that another really critical component of strong community wellbeing is people having economic opportunities, so we got some start-ups and activities that really helped people get going with their businesses.”

The third round started pre-COVID but wrapped in the midst of COVID, and then the city had to layoff hundreds of employees, which resulted in the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Civic Wellbeing formally closing in May.

“We’ve spent a little bit of the summer kind of getting ourselves set up so that we could offer another round of these microgrants though because we really wanted to finish what was started — and that’s to really look at what the future of the wellbeing work in Santa Monica might look like outside of City Hall,” Rusk said, mentioning how she and her peers have been lucky to receive funding from Cedars-Sinai, Santa Monica Firefighters and the Rotary Club of Santa Monica. So the Civic Wellbeing Partners decided to partner with the Santa Monica Bay Human Relations Council, “and what we decided to do this time in the COVID environment was keep it pretty broad and ask people to pitch ideas that relate to an area of health, community or social connection, and economic opportunity. But considering the times, I think it’s really important that projects really keep equity and racial justice front and center.”

Rusk later commended the group for its work in ensuring all of Santa Monica’s micro-communities had an opportunity to participate in the application process.

“You can’t say you’re focused on the wellbeing of residents if you aren’t meeting the community on their level and centering (a program) in equity —racial equity in particular,” Rusk said as she detailed how the microgrants can be an opportunity to help advance or the city’s Black Agenda and other initiatives. “This is so, so important, and we’re really excited to see what we get this round.”

brennon@smdp.com