Dozens of small projects around Fairfax County are getting neighbors to come together, roll up their sleeves and improve the quality of life in their community.
Like an Eagle Scout project on a larger scale, the county’s Neighborhood Enhancement Partnership Program provides small matching grants to help communities build gardens, revamp common areas, install play areas and complete other beautification projects.
“I think it makes everybody feel better about where they live,” said Chris Scales, regional manager for Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services. “Spending a weekend or two getting their hands dirty and doing a project together has built relationships.”
NEPP began in fall 2008 with the goals of promoting cleaner and safer neighborhoods while fostering a spirit of community engagement. The county has awarded a new round of grants through the program each year. About 30 projects received grants of up to $5,000 for fiscal 2012. The county spent about $100,000 on the program last year.
Community groups fill out an application and then a committee of volunteers reviews and scores the projects, Sales said. The county funds what it can, starting with the highest-scoring projects, based on its budget.
In addition to providing a new amenity or beautifying a neighborhood, NEPP is about inspiring a sense of community, Sales said.
That certainly has been the case in Annandale’s Camelot community, which obtained a NEPP grant to install a demonstration rain garden in the median of the community’s main drag, King Arthur Road.
The endeavor spurred a garden party in the median, where neighbors came to drink lemonade, chat, and vote on landscape designs for the project, said Liz Kirchner, one of the organizers of the median project. It also has helped unite two sides of the community, one area that was more active in homeowners association meetings and another that was not.
“It was really uplifting to see that people participated,” Kirchner said.
Camelot received a $1,000 grant from the county that it is matching with $500 from the HOA and another $500 worth of “sweat equity.” The NEPP uses a formula to estimate the value of volunteer labor that groups can use to count toward matching the county grant, Scales said.
The Shannon Station neighborhood in Springfield was able to primarily use its many hours of sweat equity to match its $5,000 grant to launch a community garden, said Krystal McDonald, the garden manager.
“We actually as a group spent probably every weekend in the fall and into the spring building the garden,” McDonald said.
The Shannon Station Community Garden was one of the first NEPP-funded projects in 2008. It still is going strong four years later and is continuing to build relationships, at least among garden enthusiasts in the 350-home community. The gardeners stage an annual potluck and collaborate to tend to common areas of the garden plot.
“I don’t think it would have happened without the county” funding, McDonald said, because the community association would have been unlikely to fund the project.
Camelot will invest its sweat equity this fall to spruce up the median, Kirchner said. Accotink Creek runs through the community, so protecting the water is important to residents. Their new landscaping will help reduce runoff into the stream.
“We put it in a prominent place so that not just our neighbors, but passers-by, get to see that environmentally smart landscape design can be smart and affordable and bring a neighborhood together,” Kirchner said. The median is close to Little River Turnpike.
The deadline for annual NEPP grant applications is usually in October. For information, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/cex/nepp/.