Montclair State University Research Development Specialist Dana Natale believes that grant writing skills are becoming an increasingly important part of every student’s tool kit. “Writing a successful grant proposal is a delicate blend of creativity and technical know-how,” she says. “It requires everything from content knowledge and writing proficiency to strong research skills and persistence.”
In fall 2017, Natale taught a grant writing course in collaboration with the University’s Center for Community Engagement. “This course was designed to give students a complex, real-world grant writing experience,” she explains. “Not only did they learn how to research funding opportunities and learn the skills necessary for successful grant writing, they also learned how to work with a client and write an actual grant proposal as a team.”
Natale divided her 15 undergraduate and public health master’s students into three teams that developed actual proposals to support unfunded projects for the Montclair History Center and the Montclair Community Farms.
The team consisting of Fulbright Scholar Rose Andrew and students Julie Eisenlohr, Keira Logue, Shira Morris and Dean Parker wrote a proposal that resulted in a $10,000 award for the Montclair Community Farms from the Wallerstein Foundation for Geriatric Life Improvement that was announced last month.
“What started as an elective ended up being one of the most intensive courses I’d taken as an undergraduate – but also one of the most valuable,” recalls Eisenlohr, an English major who graduated in May 2018. “It feels amazing to know that the work we did in this class will help Montclair Community Farms continue to serve local residents.”
The team’s project, “Building Capacity for the Montclair Community Farms Mobile Farm Stand,” supports a fresh produce market trailer that travels during warm weather months to senior housing locations and low-income communities. By gaining welcome and easy access to fresh, organic produce at a fraction of supermarket prices, these local seniors are likely to eat more healthily.
“It’s like having a farmers’ market delivered to your doorstep and reminiscent of a time when local farmers would drive the streets of Montclair selling their produce door-to-door,” says Montclair State Center for Community Engagement Director Bryan Murdock.
According to Murdock, the project will enable Montclair Community Farms to expand the number of senior sites served from four to seven and raise the number of seniors served by the Mobile Farm Stand. The funding will also support inter-generational interaction at its mobile stand senior sites and provide an opportunity to share this model with other communities.
One of the primary goals of the Center for Community Engagement is to help students connect classroom content with real community issues, with the hope that they will make a positive contribution to the organizations and communities they are involved with. “In this case,” explains Murdock, “the students who wrote the grant were able to see the fruits of their service immediately. From an educational perspective, this kind of experience can build civic awareness in our students – and from an institutional perspective it demonstrates that the Center and University can support reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships with local community organizations.”
Montclair Community Farms Project Coordinator Beth Pulawski agrees. “The project was a great experience for us. We’re thrilled we were able to partner with Montclair State students and Professor Natale on this project, “ she says. “We are so grateful for the opportunity to extend our engagement and impact in the community as a result of these new resources. We look forward to deepening our partnership with Montclair State in the future.”