These 12 new projects will try to make Columbus, Phenix City better places to live

Twelve projects to improve the Columbus area, with ideas sparked by chats around community meals, are closer to fruition now, thanks to a total of $20,000 in grants.

The winners of the inaugural On the Table Action Grants were announced Thursday, two months after the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley started the application period.

Thousands of people in the Columbus area have participated in at least one On the Table discussion in the past two years, so the event’s organizers created an opportunity for them to take the next step toward putting their words into action.

Participants who filled one of the On the Table seats — about 6,500 on Nov. 7, 2017, and more than 7,000 on Oct. 23, 2018 — at mealtime gatherings throughout the Columbus area were eligible to apply for as much as $2,000 to fund a community project.

A committee of about 10 organizers and participants helped the foundation select the winners out of more than 20 applicants, foundation officials said.

The grants remind the foundation’s staff and prospective philanthropists in the community, said foundation president and CEO Betsy Covington, that “sometimes improvement and change doesn’t have to have a lot of zeroes behind the dollar signs ... to help do seemingly small things that I suspect will have big results.”

The grant winners are:

$2,000 to Brad Barnes for “Blight to Beauty in Bibb City” to improve walking paths and place signs and create public art, with help from Columbus State University’s Art Department, at the Bibb City Community Orchard.

$2,000 to East Alabama Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2019 for an “Interactive Mural” designed to help beautify Phenix City.

$2,000 to Enrichment Services Program for “Get Out of Town Summer Youth Impact Tour,” exposing youth from rural communities in Stewart County to art, culture and educational experiences in Columbus.

$2,000 to Georgia Legal Services Program for “Outreach and Free Civil Legal Clinic Project,” promoting and conducting four free sessions to benefit low-income and underserved people in the community.

$2,000 to the Leadership Institute at Columbus State University for “Disruptive Leadership Series,” providing a place for an open discussion about tough topics affecting the community.

$2,000 to MidTown Inc. for “The MidTown GetDown,” a free concert at the Lakebottom Band Shell to activate an underutilized amenity and provide an opportunity for residents to get together and share information about their neighborhoods.

$2,000 to the National Civil War Naval Museum for “New Picnic Tables and Public Green Space Enhancement,” making the area more attractive and useable.

$1,860 to Frank Etheridge for “Caught Up: Criminal Justice in the Chattahoochee Valley,” a multimedia series of six profiles of individuals connected to crime and punishment but with different backgrounds and perspectives.

$1,500 to Feeding the Valley Food Bank for expanding the Giving Garden to enhance more meals with fresh produce for seniors and children.

$1,000 to Clement Arts for “Clement Care Portal,” providing an online tool for foster-care emergency needs, streamlining communication across local agencies and tracking related data and outcomes.

$900 to Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministries for “Community Interfaith Iftar,” hosted by Columbus mosques Masjid al-Jannah and Masjid an-Nur, so people from various faith traditions can meet their Muslim neighbors in a Muslim setting in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the mosques but increases interfaith understanding and cooperation.

$650 to Brookstone School for “Women’s Leadership Dinner,” a catered dinner and entertainment for the residents of the Anne Elizabeth Shepherd Home, which cares for girls ages 7-18 who are severely disturbed emotionally or behaviorally.

Covington is excited about the wide variety of the projects.

“We love that,” she said. “We love that individuals saw opportunity. We love that organizations saw opportunity.”

Then she explained what these projects have in common.

“The underlying theory of all of this is making our community a better-connected place,” she said.

The mural envisioned for Phenix City is a prime example. The idea was born during an On the Table chat hosted by staff from the Phenix City Housing Authority and Troy University’s Phenix City campus.

“One of the topics that we talked about was creating vibrant places,” said Haley Ramey, resident services supervisor for the housing authority. “Phenix City does currently have just very little art, but that is beginning to change. There’s a big push from the leadership in our community.”

Ramey is a member of this year’s leadership class at the East Alabama Chamber of Commerce. Her class decided to facilitate the creation of an interactive mural. Working with Columbus architecture firm 2WR, they determined the best location for the project is the retaining wall behind the Russell County Courthouse. They solicited proposals and selected an artist, Amber Stidham, of LaGrange, to create the 25-foot-long and 15-foot-high mural, which will depict wings to symbolize the city’s rising phoenix.

A May 4 event is scheduled for the artist to sketch the mural’s outline and allow residents to participate via paint-by-numbers.

“This phoenix is going to be facing the amphitheater, so as soon as you come over the Dillingham Street Bridge, you’re going to see this awesome mural,” Ramey said. “When people go to the amphitheater, they’ll be able to stand and take pictures. So we just really think it’s going to be something really great and a little legacy in Phenix City.”

The foundation’s $2,000 grant will cover about two-thirds of the project’s cost, Ramey told the Ledger-Enquirer.

“We just really appreciate the foundation,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to do it as early as May 4 without them.”

The Chattahoochee Valley’s 2019 On the Table date is Oct. 22. To find out how you can host or join a meal-time conversation, check out their website OnTheTableChatt.com.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.