The Missing Link: Supporting Communities Unlock Federal Grant Opportunities 

By Amy Zhou, Associate Director, Delivery Associates

Communities across the country are struggling to fill necessary workforce gaps and create opportunities for young adults to thrive in the places they call home. There is unprecedented federal funding available to foster innovative solutions in education and workforce development, but some communities are being left behind. Competitive federal grants are complex and difficult to find, implement, and manage. How do we help unlock federal funding access to empower activated, under-resourced communities? 

The Community Funding Accelerator: A New Model for Big Impact 

The Community Funding Accelerator (CFA) connects underserved communities with federal grant funding. Focused on K-12 education and workforce pathways, CFA identifies relevant grants, builds coalitions, and provides technical assistance to submit—and implement—winning applications. In doing so, CFA supports efforts to scale innovative education and workforce solutions in U.S. communities. 

Poplar Bluff, Missouri, is a healthcare “hub”; it’s one of the only places offering care in this rural region. The healthcare shortage is currently exacerbated by dropping numbers of nursing and medical staff. The Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities grant from the Department of Labor aims to help communities like Poplar Bluff strengthen their workforce and fill critical healthcare roles. But accessing that funding is a complex, multifaceted process.  

Maria Alcala, Program Director of the nonprofit Heartland Forward, overseeing this work, remarked, “Although stakeholders for this grant all live in a small community and shared common interests, they lacked putting all the pieces together to bring about an effective program.”  

CFA began work in Poplar Bluff by finding the right grant opportunity for this community’s unique circumstances.  Partnering with Heartland Forward, CFA helped to build a coalition of local school districts, hospitals, and community colleges with the shared goal of helping students realize their potential in the healthcare field. With CFA’s support, the consortium wrote a competitive grant application, complete with budget, narrative, and written commitments from local partners.  

This September, the consortium won $1.49M in funding to build pathways from secondary schools to nursing careers in the region. Maria Alcala attributed some of this success to CFA’s support, saying, “CFA brought…community leaders together and facilitated fruitful discussions that led to a successful program for this rural town in the Delta region of Missouri.” 

CFA also supported teams in Lexington, El Paso, Birmingham, and Jacksonville. Harnessing the incredible convening power of city governments, CFA has encouraged regional partners to connect with each other and to think big, while helping them to deliver complete and compelling applications.  

This year, CFA will help 30 coalitions apply for $320 million in competitive federal grants. In addition to Poplar Bluff’s grant win, CFA supported the Utah Advanced Materials & Manufacturing Initiative in winning a Tech Hubs Strategy Development Grant of $450k. CFA also contributed to Elevate Quantum receiving a Tech Hubs designation, shortlisting them for up to $75M in EDA funding for economic transformation in Colorado. 

For more information and to search for grants, visit the Community Funding Accelerator website.  

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