The city council at its meeting today will consider recommendations on how to distribute $2 million worth of federal COVID-19 relief funding set aside for a city grant program established earlier this year.
One of the two largest recommended grant prizes would boost a low-income housing project. The other would go toward a new youth center.
Competition has been heavy among 55 local nonprofits that pitched the city for a share of grant funding provided by a program devised to funnel $2 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding to local private nonprofits seeking aid for hard-to-fund projects.
The nonprofits that applied for the grant funding pitched a total of more than $17 million in proposals. Some sought funding for new facilities, fixes to existing buildings, vehicle replacements and support for existing programs.
It was a pair of proposals from Janesville nonprofits that deal with housing instability and after-school youth services that garnered the top allotment of funds from the ad hoc city panel that has vetted the nonprofit’s grant submissions since early this year.
“Pay it Forward” is a new, city grant program that will leverage $2 million of the of the $11 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds the federal government disbursed last year to the city.
In a city memo, the city’s grant panel recommended the council approve an award of $851,600 to Janesville social services nonprofit ECHO to build six units of low-income transitional housing. The panel recommended the second-biggest allotment—a $750,000 award—go toward a new facility for the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville.
Those two recommendations are far and away the biggest recommended allotments on a list of eight projects or plans the panel is asking the council to approve today.
Among the eight recommendations, the panel also recommended the city award:
Transitional housing—housing intended as a temporary bridge for families facing financial or life crises—is considered part of a gap in local affordable housing in Janesville.
Social service agencies and the city’s own neighborhood services division have said in the past few years that they have had vouchers for families in need of emergency housing go unused because at times there aren’t enough available eligible housing units to meet the demand.
The Gazette was unable to reach multiple board members of the Boys & Girls Club for comment on the city’s recommendation on funding for its new facility.
Nonprofits in the program were allowed to pitch proposals of up to $1 million. Some of the 55 pitches that didn’t make the cut for recommendations included:
The city’s Pay It Forward grant committee included staffers from the city attorney’s office, city manager’s office, the Neighborhood & Community Services Department, the Planning Division, the Janesville Police Department, two community partners and a city council member.
Members have reviewed, scored and deliberated over the applications since February, when the nonprofits’ pitches were due.
The grant funding itself comes from a pot of $4 million of COVID-19 relief funding the city initially set aside to help bridge revenue losses it incurred during the pandemic.
The city already has committed $2 million of that funding to a study and planning for a proposed public-private ice arena and conference center at Uptown Janesville, the city’s main indoor shopping mall.
When grief takes hold, the road to recovery can be long and painful.
No one knows that better than Scott and Bethany Weberpal of Janesville. Each has suffered devastating losses, and through their healing, they developed the idea to create Webs of Grief, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers resources to bereaved persons.
For Bethany, the journey began in March 2016, when her husband, Justin, died by suicide, leaving Bethany widowed with two young boys. Afterward, she met Scott, and the two formed a strong relationship.
Then, in January 2018, the unthinkable happened: Scott’s son Ethan was killed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
In their recovery, the couple, who married in December 2018, relied on what Scott calls the three F’s—faith, family and friends. Equally important were healing experiences like a night out for a special concert or dinner. But also vital to their recovery was grief counseling.
Bethany recalls her hesitancy when someone gave her a referral to a counselor after Justin died.
“At the time,” she said, “I really didn’t want to take this. But it was the best thing ever.”
Then, when Ethan died, the counselor’s role was crucial again in helping each of them understand their own grief, as well as how it affected their relationship.
When they created Webs of Grief, the Weberpals wanted it both to reference their last name but also the overwhelming feeling of being consumed like an insect in a spider web, according to their website. They hope to make that “web” and their offerings a source of strength.
“Essentially, we wanted to take the things that helped us through our grief and be able to provide those things at no cost to others who are grieving,” Scott said.
Often, there are barriers to grief services, including income level or insurance coverage. Some also feel the stigma of seeking therapy. The Weberpals want to remove those barriers for anyone going through loss.
“We never ask anybody,” said Bethany referring to individual circumstances. “We don’t want people to be afraid.”
Another barrier can be getting an appointment for therapy when it’s most needed.
It normally can take weeks or even months to get an appointment with a counselor, Bethany explained. But the therapists who have partnered with Webs of Grief have all agreed to see their referrals as soon as possible.
“Grief therapy is so integral to healing,” said Bethany, “and you need it when you need it.”
Starting a nonprofit in 2020 naturally meant COVID-19 slowed the process down.
Processing the paperwork through the Internal Revenue Service took longer than usual, but Webs of Grief was official by early July that year. Their first fundraiser launched July 10, 2020, marking what would have been Ethan’s 21st birthday. Donations have come from individuals and businesses.
Despite the pandemic, Bethany estimated that about 30 people benefited from therapy sessions and healing experiences in 2021.
They circulated flyers to area schools, enabling school counselors to refer students who were processing the loss of a sibling, parent or relative. Adults across all age groups have also gotten therapy to help them recover from their losses.
In addition to the accessibility of counseling, confidentiality and privacy are a priority.
Those seeking therapy will fill out a simple referral form found on Webs of Grief website. A brief description of the loss they’ve experienced is requested to help match them to an appropriate therapist. Applicants are encouraged to view the therapists listed on the site and request one if they choose.
Once the connection between therapist and client is made, Webs of Grief only receives paperwork needed to facilitate billing and payment.
“Really, we are just the facilitator or catalyst to get them into therapy,” said Bethany. “That’s all the contact we have.”
Scott and Bethany agreed that having something enjoyable to look forward to helped them get through the days.
“We felt like if this was something that helped us to grow,” said Scott, “it can help others in their new normal.”
Past healing experiences have included tickets to a concert, a sporting event and an overnight getaway. These giveaways are independent of the therapy services and are targeted to a specific type of bereavement at a specific time.
For example, October is Infant Loss Awareness Month, so the experience would go to someone with that loss. A Mother’s Day healing experience was targeted to someone grieving the loss of a child or mother.
The experiences are awarded through a nomination by a friend or family member. As Bethany explained, often friends and family don’t know what to say or do. Nominating them for a healing experience is a good way to help.
Scott said the difficulty with the healing experiences is funding the event without taking too much from the funds used for counseling. Some businesses have covered the cost of the experience they’re providing and others have partnered with Webs of Grief. The Weberpals realize businesses are still recovering from the pandemic but hope more partnering relationships will come.
As they look to expand on counseling services, the Weberpals are responding to an overwhelming number of requests for support groups.
Several of their therapists have said they would help facilitate the groups. Details are still being ironed out, but offering the groups is a focus right now. The online fundraiser coming up April 29 will work toward that goal.
The reason the Weberpals started Webs of Grief is simple:
“We experienced so much love and support after our tragedies that we wanted a way to pay it forward,” said Bethany. “Plus I think it kind of gave us an opportunity to channel that grief and that loss and heartache into something positive.”
They hope word spreads and that anyone in the community with a need for their services will reach out.
“If you love, you will grieve,” said Bethany. “You know there’s a need.”
Joan E. Dee
LaKeta Ann (Terrill) Deporter
Brenda L. DeVoy
Janice E. Hellpap
George P. Kelly
Gerald William “Jerry” Mills
Iris H. (Hannawell) Spencer
Sean G. Stark
Fred Charles “Freddie” Teubert Jr.