Nonprofit groups in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties were among 67 organizations across the state to receive grants for programs designed to overcome challenges that are particular to rural areas.
The Rural Maryland Council, a state agency that serves the state's rural and semi-rural counties, issued just over $298,500 in grants to seven nonprofit organizations in Southern Maryland for activities ranging from funding a new staff position to renovating a residential facility.
They were among 67 organizations in the state's 18 rural and semi-rural counties that received grants totaling nearly $3.4 million for programs that target challenges faced by rural communities such as geographic isolation, inadequate transportation, and lack of access to health care.
Charlotte Davis, RMC's executive director, said the council saw an uptick in applications from organizations in Southern Maryland during the most recent grant application cycle.
"We are seeing increasing requests from more of the social service delivery agencies, which is a concern," Davis said. "There must be an increase in demand in Southern Maryland, because we haven't seen a corresponding increase in the other rural areas of the state."
Davis said that the increase in grant applications could be a sign that state and county governments are reducing their funding for such programs, as social service organizations are traditionally heavily reliant on government grants.
The grants were made from the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund and the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund.
RMPIF grants provide funds for use in "capacity building," or helping nonprofits to grow their mission capabilities. MAERDAF grants offer financial assistance to develop programs in regional planning, economic and community development, and agricultural and forestry education.
Five organizations in St. Mary's and Calvert counties received RMPIF grants for entrepreneurship, health care and infrastructure projects.
The Southern Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Board, based in Leonardtown, received two grants totaling $80,000 for the relocation of the popular farmers market now located in the parking lot of the Charlotte Hall library and for improvements to amenities along the Three Notch Trail.
Because the farmers market has continued to grow to the point where it can no longer accept additional vendors, St. Mary's County government recently acquired a 15-acre farmstead near Charlotte Hall that will serve as the market's new home. The board will use the RMC grant to purchase buildings for use by vendors, make improvements to the land, and install amenities.
Moving the farmers market will free up the library's parking lot to allow more people to park there to use the Three Notch Trail. The board will use its second grant to construct 565 linear feet of trail connection and 300 linear feet of wooden bridges over wetland areas, as well as platforms, signs, and amenities along the trail.
"The market relocation is an important component of the overall strategy to support agriculture and value-added cottage industry in the five Southern Maryland counties," said board executive director Cindy Greb.
The Southern Maryland Community Network of Prince Frederick received a $34,050 grant to remodel a home that it owns for use as a residential facility for people with serious mental health issues. The facility will offer training in daily living skills for up to three people at a time to help them transition to independent housing.
The house is currently used as a crisis facility for people in Southern Maryland as well as Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. The crisis facility will be moving to a new location.
SMCN executive director Karen Carloni said that this was the first time her organization had applied for an RMC grant, which she said will also help ensure the house stays in good repair.
"It's really giving us an incredible opportunity," Carloni said. "This is important to us, and for our neighbors in the community too."
The Arc Southern Maryland, which is also based in Prince Frederick but has offices in Leonardtown and Waldorf, will use its $37,500 grant to purchase two vans that will allow it to bring seniors, shut-ins, and people with disabilities to appointments with their health care providers.
Arc CEO Terry Long said that the service is expected to begin in Charles County in January and has already been in great demand in both Calvert and St. Mary's counties since it started in August.
"We budgeted for 25 trips daily in August and we ended up with 150," Long said. "Transportation is a major issue in Southern Maryland, as you can imagine."
Long said that this was The Arc's first time applying for an RMC grant.
"We're really happy that they noticed us and want to help us," Long said.
RMC also awarded MAERDAF grants to The Community Foundation of Southern Maryland, based in Charlotte Hall, and Health Partners Inc., of Waldorf.
The University of Maryland Extension in Bel Alton will be testing an innovative tele-health program for diabetes education with its $28,000 grant. The program aims to recruit between 300 and 400 participants statewide in a four-month program that will include health education as well as training in food preparation and cooking.
Virginia Brown, the principal investigator for the program, said that the program is based on a model that has been successfully tested in other rural states. "We know that the program is effective," Brown said. "The question is, how does it work in Maryland?"
Brown said that participants will be randomly assigned to one of three groups that will meet all in person, all online, or a mix of the two in order to see which methods work best.
"Fortunately, broadband — or at least Internet access — tends to be more prevalent in Southern Maryland than in other rural regions in the state," she said. "Whether or not people follow through with it is another story."
Brown and the other instructors will conduct follow-ups with program participants to see how well the lessons stuck, and will present a report and webinar on the results next summer.
CalvertHealth Foundation of Prince Frederick received a $60,000 grant to fund four positions in CalvertHealth Medical Center's Oncology Navigator program. The navigators will help at least 300 breast, thoracic and prostate cancer patients to obtain needed specialist care from 25 partnering organizations throughout Southern Maryland over the coming year.
"The use of navigators in the provision of care, especially in oncology services, continues to be an evidence-based best practice to eliminate barriers to accessing care and bridging the gap between medical providers and patients," explained Theresa Johnson, the foundation's associate vice president of corporate communications and philanthropy.
Johnson said that this was the foundation's first grant application with RMC, though RMC has funded other CalvertHealth Medical Center projects.
Vice President Kasia Sweeney, the center's oncology services administrator, expressed the hospital's gratitude to RMC for the grant.
"We are thrilled to be working with them to continue to expand the care and services available in Calvert County," she said.
CFSOMD will be using its $19,000 grant will be used to boost the foundation's outreach initiatives, including the production of an educational video about the benefits of establishing a charitable community assistance fund with the foundation.
Health Partners plans to use its $40,000 grant to fund a full-time staff dental coordinator position to oversee appointment scheduling and billing at the health center's popular dental clinic.
Executive director Christine Mulcahey said that the dental coordinator will also identify additional sources of revenue, including commercial insurance, to help offset costs for people who cannot afford to pay for dental care.
"This position is vital to the sustainability of our dental program," Mulcahey said.