Making Miami awesome, $1,000 at a time – Knight Foundation

Making Miami awesome, $1,000 at a time

Knight Foundation supports The Awesome Foundation Miami to help local innovators benefit from its micro-grant opportunities. Below, Natalia Martinez, the dean of The Awesome Foundation Miamiwrites about the group’s objectivesPhoto credit: Bruce Pinchbeck. Pinchbeck’s Frame It Up Project received $1,000 from The Awesome Foundation Miami.

The idea of starting an Awesome Foundation chapter in Miami came to me because, frankly, I was anxious about moving back here. I’d lived in the greater Miami area from the time I was 10 until I was 18, but I spent most of my adult life living in Boston and New York. I knew several people involved in other Awesome Foundation chapters, so I put my foot down halfway through the summer of 2012: If I was going to move back and feel happy about it, I needed to connect and invest in my new home. Out of my anxiety and the incredible support of my partners in planning/crime, Tony Jimenez and Jessica Goldfin, our chapter was born.

Since each Awesome Foundation chapter is autonomous, the first handful of trustee meetings last fall was spent discussing our vision and goals.  Despite diverse backgrounds (we’re a mix of lawyers, creatives, non-profit professionals and more), it became apparent that we shared a common motivation: wanting to increase the self-efficacy of the Greater Miami area. In our vision of nirvana, the average person – a neighbor, student, business owner, a stay-at-home mom or dad –  would feel that our grants were accessible and our process easy to understand.

We have sought to reach those involved in creative industries, technology and startups, and the nonprofit sector, but to maximize our impact, we also wanted our applicants to reflect the socioeconomic, political and ethnic diversity of Miami. Ideally, applications would be coming from pockets of the community that have not traditionally felt engaged in the development or decisions of our city. For instance, to better reflect Miami’s composition, we translated the application into Spanish and Creole. We are only the second chapter in the world to accept applications in secondary languages.

Since awarding our first grant in January (a meditation program for high school students), we have received hundreds of proposals. Applicants have spanned every geographic area of Greater Miami.  They’ve come from a diverse group of applicants: from students to artists, business professionals to residents of homeless shelters. As a consequence, we’ve been fortunate to fund a range of awesome and uniquely Miami ideas such as surfing classes for kids, a community garden in Little Haiti and a mural display by local artists in Wynwood.

Bruce Pinchbeck, who received a grant for his Frame It Up Project, credits the Awesome Foundation grant for jumpstarting his life in Miami. “The amazing network of people who are associated as either trustees, grantees  and anyone who flocks around these inspired people has shown me how little steps can move you towards great things,” he said.  “[The grant] helped get me out of my shell….and ignited a fire to try out all of my crazy ideas for public art and philanthropy.”

For Martha Iluch, receiving $1,000 for her pilot project “Design for Habitat: Homes for a Greater Miami” meant she would have the necessary prize money needed to start a much-needed low-income housing design competition. But it was far from just any ordinary competition, she said.  “Volunteering for Habitat Young Professionals while doing my master’s at University of Miami, gave me the idea of putting both worlds working together,” she said. “I have managed to get a team of undergrad students and young professionals together in order to seek a real, feasible design that if needed could be developed in the future.”

We’ve also learned that $1,000 a month, while it provides enough to kick-start many projects, doesn’t go very far when you have so many applicants. Multiple times, instead of awarding a grant, we’ve brainstormed how to connect an applicant with someone who is working on complementary projects or an organization that might fund the idea. We hope to foster more of these connections that might not happen otherwise. Thanks to Knight’s support, we will continue to fund great ideas and build connections across our city through social marketing campaigns and events.

Our next event will be in October.  It will bring together grant winners, applicants, supporters and those interested in learning more about innovative and creative projects in Miami. Stay tuned to @awesomemiami for more details.

We typically award one $1,000 grant each month and applications can be submitted online by the 15th of every month. I encourage anyone with an idea to apply! We’ve only just begun to tap into the creative visions people have for our city, and we can’t wait to make your awesome project a reality.  

By Natalia Martinez, dean of The Awesome Foundation Miami

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