Ali O’Grady, a third year student and director of the Student Volunteer Center, is in charge of service grants that is set up through SVC award money to student projects. Photo by Devika Agarwal.
Ali O’Grady, a third year student and director of the Student Volunteer Center, is in charge of service grants that is set up through SVC award money to student projects. Photo by Devika Agarwal.

The UC Santa Cruz Student Volunteer Center (SVC) is giving away thousands of dollars.

At a time when many departments in the university are facing shrinking financial resources, the SVC is designating a significant portion of its budget for students through its community service project grant program by awarding grants that range from $100 to $1,000.

“I want to put the money back in the hands of the students — I think that is where it should be,” said Ali O’Grady, director of the SVC.

The CSP grant program almost failed to operate this year. As an intern during winter 2009, O’Grady noticed the inactive program on the SVC’s website. She resolved to resurrect it and has been working on getting the program up and running since fall quarter.

“Once I became the director I talked to my staff about starting it up again, and since then it has been a long process to get all the paperwork done, through the career center and the university.”

The main obstacle to reestablishing the program was the legal paperwork surrounding the ways in which money may be distributed through the career center, where the SVC is housed. Because of restrictions on disbursement, money may only be given out one of two ways — either as a purchase order to be spent at specific vendors listed in the proposal budget, or as a reimbursement to an organization or individual with original itemized receipts.

According to the SVC’s website, the Community Service Project (CSP) Grant program awards seed money to student-initiated service projects that address a tangible need in the Santa Cruz community. Applicants are required to complete written applications, generate itemized budgets, and attend a meeting with SVC Director Ali O’Grady before submitting their proposals. In addition, applicants must find a UCSC faculty sponsor and a community sponsor with whom to collaborate on the project.

O’Grady said that the numerous steps in the process are designed to help students submit a solid proposal.

“We want to make sure that we can give them some guidance and make sure that they are as thorough as possible, because we want people to be approved,” she said.

Kresge first-year Keith Bobrowski is submitting a proposal to start a food-transport service to the homeless drum circle. His proposal makes use of grant money to purchase a bike and a custom truck bed that will be used to carry food from campus to the downtown homeless gathering. He says he developed the idea for his project with his service learning professor Franklin Williams after the two had a discussion about Bobrowski’s passion for working with bikes. Despite his lack of experience, Bobrowski feels comfortable with the CSP grant process.

“This is the first grant I have ever written,” Bobrowski said. “[The grant process] seems reasonable, they just want all the details. You have to be able to present your case, and I feel like I can do that with the food transport project.”

Professor Williams said that the CSP grants are a great educational experience for his students, who are working on grant writing this quarter.

“[The community service project grants] are giving us a chance to write grants about something real instead of abstract grants,” he said. “It will motivate you a lot more, instead of writing one to the Ford Foundation … just to learn the mechanics of grant writing.”

Williams cites the accessibility of the SVC as a major contributor to the effectiveness of the program.

“Ali [O’Grady] has gone out of her way to make sure [students] are going to be successful,” he said. “Everyone who applies for a grant has to meet with her first…and then I can say ‘She has these questions, so let’s answer these questions.’ We are going right to the person in charge of the grants. It is much more organic.”

Proposals are due by May 10, and decisions regarding who will receive funding are to be made shortly after. Despite the slow start, O’Grady is excited about what the program means for students.

“[The CSP grant] is a really good opportunity for students who have never written a grant before to get some experience. I think it will be exciting to see students follow through and implement their ideas in the community,” she said.