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Monday, December 14, 2009

Meet the CNMI-ARRA grant writers

WHETHER it’s well-paved roads, improved water and power supply, additional nutritional assistance programs, housing projects and all other benefits that the CNMI is enjoying — these did not all fall from the skies when everybody was asleep. A lot of work and effort is involved before the funding is released and actually transform into actual projects the residents can benefit from.
As of October 2009, the CNMI has been awarded $69, 010,050 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. There are still lots of CNMI-eligible programs and millions of total funds in ARRA that can be availed of through various grants.
The opportunities are there, but who’s going to tap what potential funding is available, and what the CNMI’s priorities are?

Standing, from left, Christopher F. Fryling, ARRA PIO/IT and communications manager Winfred Camacho, Commerce secretary Michael Ada and John Furey. Seated, from left are Laurie Peterka, ARRA project coordinator Geri Willis and ARRA administrative manager Alfreda P. Camacho.

Grant writers

ARRA project coordinator Geri Willis said that choosing from among the applicants for grant writers was not that simple.
Laurie Peterka, Christopher F. Fryling and John Furey are the three individuals who were chosen from several applicants who applied for the grant writer’s slots advertised by the Department of Commerce in March this year.
Willis said the applicants were asked to submit several pages of proposal with their background, experience, involvement in projects and ability to meet several other requirements.
“The proposals were reviewed and scored before finding out who qualified for as grant writers,” Willis said.
Peterka said that the grant writers’ primary function is to seek various types of funding from the federal and opportunities and provide a report or listing of grant opportunities to various agencies they are assigned to and get instruction from directors of these agencies which are handling the projects.
“Some of the grants we’ve written are now being used in the application process,” Peterka said.
Fryling, who had been involved with federal grants as an architect in Florida said that as grant writers, they have to overcome all hurdles like land certification, regulations, and other issues involved in the research of a project before they can start writing a proposal.
Fryling said that they have to be alert for other potential grants all the time although they may be working on one project at a time.
“For instance we are working on a grant application project for CUC, and we come across a grant for clean diesel. It may not be directly related but it fits with our project so we will work on it,” he said.
For Furey, grant writing is interesting albeit complicated.
“It allows us to be able to address some important needs and all of us are citizens who use power, water and electricity, roads and all services that are expensive,” he said. In short, he said that they help the government identify resources to address these needs so everybody get better services.
These grant writers work as a team to assist those agencies who don’t have writing teams for grants.
Although there are some agencies that do have grant writers, the Department of Commerce can still offer assistance.
“We’re hired to keep our eyes open for potential projects that have the most potential for funding we don’t want to miss anything,” Peterka said.
She added that when they learned that ARRA funding was going to come out, they made a priority list and got everyone of the agencies on the list to contribute a list of primary projects which were narrowed for potential applications which had potential funding in those areas.

Tight time frame

The grant writers have only about two to three weeks window when a funding announcement comes out to work all the details and have everything ready to apply for a particular grant.
“If we didn’t have the projects ready to roll, we would miss the opportunity to get it because it takes weeks of researching before writing a grant,” Peterka said.
A grant writer’s job is critical because a very small word they might have missed in an entire paragraph could change the dynamic of what they are trying to achieve.
The grant writers said that “it’s not as simple as people think otherwise anybody can do and will do it.”
Excellent communication skills, both written and oral is a necessity because if you don’t know how to communicate and take the information you’ve gotten from the agency you are writing the grant for and put it correctly to the funding agency, you won’t get what you’re asking for.
Furey even urged the students to go to school and specialize in grant application writing and research.

Complex job

Department of Commerce secretary Michael Ada said that grant writing is very complex.
“The devil is in the details and the grant writers have to balance the work between looking at what agencies need and at areas most likely inclined to be awarded,” he said.
He added that several agencies like the CUC, DLNR, DPS, Customs and others have several needs but don’t have the time to write grant applications.
“These agencies have projects that are ripe for awards and this is where we come in and help,” Ada said.
“This is a whole new experience for the department. Some of the agencies don’t have grant writers so by creating this position we will be able to maximize the resources,” Ada added.
He said that one of the biggest challenges they face is telling people and making them understand how the applications for grants are being done.
He said that there may be plenty of CNMI-eligible projects for ARRA funding, but certain conditions have to be met before an application is even submitted.
“One thing we have to look for is the conditions of possible grants. For instance a grant is available but we are required to match it with cash, and we don’t have it so we won’t apply for it,” Ada said.
He added that there are also conditions that require a portion should be in loan, or that the government will be obligated by the funding agency to meet certain expectations for a number of years.
“For example, if the Department of Public Safety is going to hire new police officers and they can’t afford to pay the payroll past the grant, theoretically we’re in violation of the grant because if we can’t meet the obligation for the 5-year period, we don’t qualify,” he said.
To sum it up, both Ada and Willis said that the role grant writers play in pursuing possible federal funds is so important because only a few could be awarded grants out of so many applicants.
For opportunities or more information, visit www.cnmiarra.net.
(This article was first published HERE)

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