What’s Right With Tacoma: Seven Spark Grants will bolster community strengths

  • RECIPIENTS. From left, front row: Alexa Folsom-Hill and Benjamin Warner; second row: Anna Holcomb and Savannah Olsen; third row: Miri Sampson, Kathryn Weymiller and Renee Simms; back row: Lucas Smiraldo and Mitch Kinne. (Photo courtesy of Greater Tacoma Community Foundation)

Each round of Spark Grants makes me want to switch the words around in the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation's name.

Greater Community. Community Foundation. Tacoma, Greater.

The grants are a genius idea, funded in part by George Russell's One Nation.

They're comparatively small – $1,500. They're focused on one idea. They go to ordinary people instead of organizations. Each one of them gives an existing strength a new way to shine in Pierce County.

Now we have a new batch of transformative goodness on the way. GTCF announced the seven newest Spark Grants, and they're starting soon, with all the energy of a new year – and a big Super Bowl.

The 5th Annual Soberbowl - Mitch Kinne has been clean and sober for five years. That's a rocking accomplishment – with one guaranteed annual awkward moment: The Super Bowl. If you're looking for a public place to cheer, there's going to be beer.

Kinne's offering an alternative: A family-friendly party with a big screen TV, snacks, memorabilia and prizes – and no alcohol.

“Oftentimes people relapse when they cannot replace old habits. Staying clean and sober during a big sporting event is one of those occasions where drinking is often a part of the festivities,” Kinne said.

Soberbowl offers a big, fun alternative, with attendance between 200 and 300 people of all ages. It's funded with donations and gifts, Kinne said, and the $1,500 will help pay for equipment. This year, the party will be at The Bridge, a ministry of the United Methodist Church at 5601 S. Puget Sound Ave.

“Literacy for Life” doesn't quite capture the fun going on at Ford Middle School in Midland. The Franklin Pierce School District bought a copy of “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan for each of Ford's 900 students.

“We wanted to build a culture of reading,” said Dietrich Baker.

Again, that underestimates the fun. Being Percy Jackson in your imagination is more exciting than taking a quiz on a reading assignment, and the students are into it. The school has held read-ins, stolen Zeus's lightning bolt and brought in prizes. It has formed persuasive alliances with parents, community groups and foundations, including Little Caesar's, which funds reading programs. Thursday, Feb. 6, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. it will host a Family Reading and Writing Night, complete with Ford students' book projects and their version of “Camp Half-Blood.

Alchemy Indoor Skate Park & Education Center Community Outreach – Skater culture is weird, said Benjamin Warner and Brandon Jacobsen. “But we've embraced our weirdness,” Warner said. “These kids approach problems in such a beautiful way.”

They fly through physics. They navigate the complex hierarchy at skate parks. By building ramps and taking them to community events, Warner said, they aim to break down negative stereotypes of skating, and give young skaters an outlet to talk.

Student Kitchenette Project tackles one of the scariest areas of Tacoma School of The Arts: The student kitchenette. Anna Holcomb and Savannah Olsen are enlisting students with disabilities to manage the place, and, in so doing, build relationships with traditional students and learn skills they'll need to live on their own. They'll identify the supplies they need, and the grant will pay for them.

Gig Harbor/Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition. The area has had 10 youth suicides in the past 10 years. Miri Sampson and Kathryn Weymiller will provide workshops to train 200 teachers, coaches, parents and student leaders to recognize the signs that a person may be considering suicide.

The LAZ: Hilltop's finest odes, lyrics, verses and tales – Necashaw Montgomery and Renee Simms plan a literary arts zine that will bridge the gap between the academic and underground writers based in Tacoma's most storied neighborhood. They are searching blogs, posts and open mics for writers with whom they intend to publish the first zine in mid-summer.

The Laureate Listening Anthology – Tacoma's poet laureate, Lucas Smiraldo, will create an online audio anthology. “My desire is to reflect a wider range of voices as they create and share works that express a spirit of place in Tacoma and Pierce County,” Smiraldo said.

He'll locate them on a Google map, so anyone can click on an area and hear a voice from that neighborhood.

This is a good mix, running from Gig Harbor to Midland, representing arts and involving young people. It's a collection of sparks to ignite small fires that can be used to forge great chances.

A skill, a snapshot, a chat with a point. All of them add to this community's foundation. All of them make this community greater.


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