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Rural Champions

A network of devoted rural champions working to strengthen Kansas communities

The Rural by Choice Champions program is designed to create a network of grassroots individuals who possess the necessary tools to resolve critical community needs in a quick and effective manner. These Rural Champions will receive strategic training, compensation, and paired mentorships to assist them.

Developed by the Kansas Department of Commerce’s Office of Rural Prosperity (ORP), in partnership with the Kansas Sampler Foundation (KSF) and the Patterson Family Foundation, this program will address critical public needs in rural communities and build capacity moving forward.

Moving the needle towards rural prosperity.

The need for the Rural Champions program was identified in surveys and interviews of more than 500 rural Kansans under the age of 40 as something that would “move the needle” toward success for rural prosperity. Many of those individuals wanting to make a difference are volunteers who are passionate about their communities but unable to take on a community improvement project without receiving appropriate resources, training and/or compensation.

The Rural Champions program removes the funding gap for those passionate rural dwellers by pairing them with a resource team that will help them accomplish their critical community project.

Applications will be accepted until September 16th at 5:00 PM.

Informational webinar:

This recorded meeting provided the opportunity to answer questions about the Rural Champions program. Additional questions can be submitted through the Contact Us button above.

Rural Champions Program Information

How does it work?

The Rural Champions program will provide the support needed to fill the gap in driving successes throughout Kansas when there is a lack of capital or the capacity of a dedicated individual to see a project through to completion. The Rural Champions program will create a network of grassroots champions tackling critical needs that have been identified by the communities themselves.

Communities will submit their application describing current activities, challenges that are stifling progress, and how a Champion would benefit their advancement. Twelve communities will be selected for this pilot program and will receive a stipend for wages that will allow the Champion to focus strategically on a critical need for their community from October 2022 – October 2023; selected Champions will develop an implementation strategy for the identified community need within three months and then have until December 2023 to fully implement this strategy.

Scoring Criteria:

  • Is the application complete and detailed? Have all questions been answered in detail with required documents?
  • Has the Rural Champion been selected for this project?  Is the Champion, qualified, involved and committed to the project? If not, do they have a strong plan for selection by October?
  • Do they have a project focus area identified that addresses a community need and describe how it was determined? Has any work been done to this point? (The first 3 months are for the Champion to detail the implementation of the project.)
  • Do they show community support for the identified project area and have support letters provided? Are support letters included from more then one organization, such as city, eco/devo, foundation, etc.
  • Have they have outlined the match that will be provided by the host organization or partners? A 25% match is required equaling $5,020; full cash match will earn max points. Are additional funding sources being utilized?

The Rural Champions program removes the funding gap for those passionate rural dwellers by pairing them with a resource team that will help them accomplish the critical community project.

Informational Webinar

Program Webinar:

You can watch the recorded webinar here:

The Application Process

Application Process:

Applications will be accepted August 10th – September 16th, 5:00 PM.

It is anticipated that the 12 selected applicants will be notified the week of September 25th.

The grants will run from October 2022 – October 2023. Champions will have until December 2023 to complete their project (unless construction is involved).

In the application the applicant will describe the needs in the community and how having a Champion will benefit their community.

The Champions will be selected by the Applicants. The applicant organization will provide a match through in-kind workspace, a provided computer and technology access, travel reimbursements, augmented pay, etc. The applicant will submit quarterly expense reports and will receive reimbursement.

Communities that have already identified their Champion in the application, have community support and matching salary support will receive additional points in the review process.

Selected Champions will have two required to events to attend:

  • The Rural Prosperity Summit on October 17th, 10:00 – 2:30 in Wichita, KS.
  • Leadership Training on October 26th, 9:00 – 4:00 in Wichita, KS
Eligibility Requirements

Eligibility Requirements

All counties with of population of 40,000 or below are eligible to apply.

The Champion will be a contracted employee with the applicant. Eligible applicants include:

  • Division of local government
  • Economic/Community Development
  • Community Foundation
  • Local Chambers of Commerce or Tourism
  • Nonprofits (501(c)3 or 601(c)6)
  • Main Street organizations or Affiliates
  • Federally recognized tribal community

Examples of eligible community projects include:

  • Rural grocery/food access
  • Childcare
  • Placemaking/Beautification
  • Trails/Recreation
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Co-Working/Maker space
  • Health/Wellness
  • Housing
  • Broadband
  • Art

Scoring Criteria:

  • Is the application complete and detailed? Have all questions been answered in detail with required documents?
  • Has the Rural Champion been selected for this project?  Is the Champion, qualified, involved and committed to the project? If not, do they have a strong plan for selection by October?
  • Do they have a project focus area identified that addresses a community need and describe how it was determined? Has any work been done to this point? (The first 3 months are for the Champion to detail the implementation of the project.)
  • Do they show community support for the identified project area and have support letters provided? Are support letters included from more then one organization, such as city, eco/devo, foundation, etc.
  • Have they have outlined the match that will be provided by the host organization or partners? A 25% match is required equaling $5,020; full cash match will earn max points. Are additional funding sources being utilized?
Program Goals and Evaluation

Champions will provide regular progress reports to the ORP and receive direct guidance and technical assistance from ORP’s team, Grassroots Strategy Developer, and resource partners throughout the process to ensure success. Progress reports will also assist with the development of a roadmap for future projects. In addition, Champions will utilize the #ruralbychoice social media campaign to highlight the benefits of living in rural Kansas. In an effort to rewrite the rural life narrative and promote the benefits of doing so, a social media plan will be developed for Champions to create content for various ORP platforms.

A team of resource supports for the initiative from various state and regional agencies and foundations will be created to help the community implement their goal.  At the end of the implementation year, the community will host a tour of the project, provide a report on how they were able to accomplish this goal, and what they learned in the process. The goal of this initiative is to be able to repeat similar efforts in future years so that multiple communities across rural Kansas can produce community-focused and community-driven change. The processes that the Champions utilize will be captured – creating community roadmaps for change that other rural communities can then follow to do similar work.

FAQs

Is there a maximum community population to qualify?

Eligible applicants within counties with a maximum of 40,000 population. If your community is located in one of the 10 counties with population over 40,000, you would not be eligible for this grant program. The 10 counties include: Butler, Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, Reno, Riley, Saline, Sedgwick, Shawnee, Wyandotte. However, for rural communities that are in these counties and are working to address a community need, ORP is able to work with you and share the information discussed as we build the playbooks/roadmaps for community projects as they are developed.

What is the “match” requirement?

The grant will be a stipend and will be based on $20/hour for 20 hours/week, approximately $20,800, paid out on a quarterly basis. A 25% match of cash &/or in-kind, approximately $5,000, is required and will also be reported on a quarterly basis. A cash match for additional hours is encouraged. The applicant organization is expected to provide a match through in-kind, including but not limited to, necessary tools to carry out the project (computer, internet, workspace), meeting and registration expenses, travel and mileage reimbursement, etc. The points will be scored according to match, with full cash match receiving maximum points.

Can the Champion be a current employee?

Yes, the Champion can be an existing employee, however, the employee must transition to work exclusively on the project identified. This is intended to build capacity for the community and applicant. An example of an existing employee that could work as the Champion is if there is an intern or administrative position that is underutilized and is looking to increase their duties, knowledge, and skills.

Is there a limit to the number of grants a community or organization can be awarded?  

An applicant or community is limited to one project award.

Can multiple organizations from the same county submit applications for different projects?

Because we only have funding for 12 Champions, we will make an effort to spread the funding across Kansas, making it fairly unlikely that we will award more than one Rural Champion grant per county. Organizations are encouraged to collaborate and to possibly look at merging the plans in a way that could still meet the timeline restriction.

Can multiple projects be included in an application?

If the community or organization has multiple areas of interest for a project, this can be explained in the application but are encouraged to have limited to primary focuses. The first quarter of the Champion’s work will be developing the project and planned implementation. During this time, the scope of the project will be narrowed to a single area of focus.

How will the Champion document their time?

The Champion will work with the contracted organization on how to document project time. The host organization will provide quarterly expense reports showing payment to the Champion, as well as any cash and/or in-kind match.

Can multiple communities collaborate on a regional project with a single Champion?

Yes, a regional project with multiple communities or counties would be eligible (as long as all are eligible counties) with a single entity identified as the host organization.

Can multiple organizations collaborate on a community project?

Yes, multiple organizations can work together on a Champion project with one being the lead. Any funds or in-kind committed by each organization goes towards the match, just outline the details in the application.

Can a project have multiple Champions?

No, the Champion would need to be a single person that can be fully dedicated to this project. However, if you pay wages to an additional person as a resource to the Champion on the project, wages you pay that person would count towards the community match.

Would expenses the Champion pays count towards match?

Yes, any travel or expenses that the Champion pays for themselves would count towards match. Documentation and receipts would be to be provided to the host organization to show the match when submitting their reimbursement request for the wages.

Can additional volunteer hours worked by the Champion count as match?

A limited number of hours, worked beyond the 20 hours per week by Champion, can count as match. To get maximum scoring points, a cash or in-kind match from other sources, such as paid wages, equipment, or reimbursements, to meet the 25% required match would need to be provided.

What happens if the project does not take until October 2023 to be completed?

That is fine. When the proposed project has been fully completed, the grant will end at that time. It is encouraged to think broadly about the project when planning for the year. For example, if planning to establish a landbank, do not end after it is created. Plan for implementation, use, marketing, etc.

What if the project includes construction?

If the project includes construction the Champion will have one year to develop the project, plan, funding resources, etc. Construction will need to be initiated before December 2023 and must be completed by December 2024.

Can the grant be used for any other expense?

No, the only expense that the grant can be used for is the stipend for the Champion. Other qualifying expenses paid can go toward the match.

*This list will continue to be updated.*

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