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Grants goal: Making area more diverse

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Bartholomew County’s largest foundation is taking another step to make the area more open and welcoming to diverse people, cultures, backgrounds and beliefs.

The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County will again award grants, many for $4,000 to $5,000 each, to nonprofit groups, agencies and organizations collaborating with others, including for-profit companies.

A meeting to provide information about the effort will be conducted at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, 500 Franklin St.

These grants, coming from an allocation of $40,000, will focus on arts, culture and design, according to Kristin Munn, the fund’s community grants and outreach manager.

The last set of such grants, under a Heritage Fund program called Welcoming Community II, was given in 2012.

Tracy Souza, the foundation’s president and CEO, said she looks forward to the ideas and proposals that groups will present later this year.

“Part of what we learned with the last Welcoming Community II grants was that this community has incredible imagination,” Souza said.

Those grants included such creative collaborations as the The Indian, Pakistani and Trinbago associations of the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization (CAMEO), presenting a cricket camp. The sport is huge among those nationalities and polished players here have used it to build bridges with others.

“Building a welcoming community is obviously a community value for us, and a community value that the mayor has outlined in her Advance Columbus plan, so we have to ask, ‘What are we doing to promote that value?’” Souza said. “We feel that offering this (grant) program is a way to continue to remind the community that having a welcoming culture is indeed important to us.”

Souza said part of the Welcoming Community push can be explained in a basic way.

“Once you meet someone and begin to get to know them, it’s very hard to be prejudiced,” she said.

In the last Welcoming Community survey released in 2011, most residents said they felt Bartholomew County was welcoming to a diverse population.

But the Inclusive Community Coalition, which represents the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, said they felt the county’s acceptance of them had fallen.

That population segment showed a dip in rating the county’s openness compared to a previous, similar survey in 2004. That population group rated openness at 2.4 in 2004, and 2.1 in 2011. A score of four meant they strongly agree there is openness. A one meant they strongly disagree.

But the survey showed that the international community saw more acceptance here — significant since 7 percent of people in the county were foreign-born, according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau figures. That is almost twice the statewide percentage.

Souza said the new focus of this grant offering is simply one way to stimulate renewed interest in making the community more accepting.

Openness to differences has been a major topic socially, spiritually and economically among cities in recent years.

Experts and business leaders, including those from Cummins Inc., have said that views on issues such as gay marriage significantly impact its ability to recruit and retain quality workers.

“We need to remember,” Souza said, “that the fact that we’re even talking about these issues here is a giant step forward.”

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