Social Service Groups Get Casino Dollars to Boost Programs


KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Several social-service agencies here have come away winners in their bid to win a portion of health and wellness dollars donated by Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway.

In the first year of the program, the combined city-county government has awarded approximately $500,000 in grants to 13 nutrition and active-living programs. The casino opened last year in western Wyandotte County.

“For the most part, I think people were pursuing funding for some really innovative, creative programs that address some serious health issues in our community,” said United Way executive Wendell Maddox, who was a member of the advisory panel that reviewed funding applications.

Agencies scoring highest among the applicants included The Family Conservancy and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. Grantees came from a pool of 43 applicants that submitted $1.7 million in combined requests.

As part of its development agreement with the Unified Government, Hollywood Casino agreed to donate half a million dollars each year to social services and charitable community activities. The casino also is making annual donations for parks and recreation and schools.

The Unified Government Commission decided to earmark the charitable funds toward the Healthy Communities Wyandotte initiative launched four years ago.

The commission approved the first round of grants earlier this month, and Public Health Director Joe Connor said he expected disbursement of the funds last week.

“Obviously we had more requests than funds to give,” Connor said. “Hopefully, we can continue to try and meet some of these needs into the future.”

The Family Conservancy received $18,000 for its Healthy Parents, Healthy Kids program, said Casey Sharp, a grant specialist with the organization.

The program serves residents in the Juniper Gardens and St. Margaret’s Park public housing complexes. It has a community garden component along with parenting classes.

Sharp said the program serves about 75 families on a budget of nearly $120,000.

The casino funding would be key, she said, in continuing the program at St. Margaret’s Park, which started as a pilot late last year.

Sharp said the casino funding was a welcome addition to a funding landscape that has been fairly limited.

“So having a new funding opportunity to go for was really exciting for us,” she said.

Catholic Charities is going to use its $50,000 grant to help run the New Roots for Refugees Program, said Wendy Doyle, executive vice president of development.

Through the program, she said, immigrant families receive a quarter-acre plot at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm. They also receive the seeds and other resources they need to grow food native to their home countries.

With refugees that have come from parts of Africa and Asia, the plantings include crops such as red noodle beans, bitter melon, and Thai basil.

Doyle said the program’s entrepreneurial component teaches participants how to count money and how to grow produce that appeals to local consumers, which the refugees sell at farmers’ markets.

The program serves 25 families on a budget of a little more than $280,000.

Doyle said she was grateful for the casino grant because, in her view, the Catholic Charities program was a “win-win on so many levels” for the community, from providing healthy foods to sustaining refugee families.

Other successful applicants included Episcopal Community Services for its Wyandotte County Nutrition Action Initiative and the Oak Ridge Youth Development Corp. for the Oak Ridge Integrated Health Curriculum.

A full list of applicants is included in the agenda packet for the commission’s May 16 meeting.

Maddox said the advisory panel has recommended to the commission ways to improve the grant process.

He said panel members suggested a standardized budget document and they also encouraged establishing a way to measure the outcomes of the grantees.

The panel also recommended staggering the rotation of members off the panel to preserve continuity from one year to the next.

One noteworthy aspect of the initial funding round, Maddox said, was the fact that, for the most part, the panel awarded the full amount requested to the successful applicants.

That’s unusual, he said, and it’s “something the agencies should really, really appreciate.”

Connor sat in on the meeting where the commission finalized its recommendations. He said he thought that panel members were “very thoughtful and very deliberate” in their review of the applications.

“It was an enjoyable conversation to listen to,” he said.



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