Equity and Inclusion Grants and Initiatives
Hoover EXPLORE Inclusive Playground
The $50,000 grant awarded by the Community Foundation to the City of Hoover’s for the new EXPLORE inclusive playground in 2018 is a powerful example of equity in action to benefit the entire community. The city had heard from parents that there was no playground in the area allowing children with disabilities to play alongside children without disabilities.
Hoover set out to build the first full-scale, fully inclusive playground in the region. To guide the design, they got broad community input and visited inclusive playgrounds around the Southeast. The resulting 15,000 square foot playground and 7,000 square foot splash pad was accessible to children of all abilities with features for children with physical and developmental disabilities included in more traditional equipment.
Last year, the playground had 46,000 visitors drawing families with children of all different abilities. Surveys found that around 15% of the playground’s users have disabilities and almost half of the users are from outside of Hoover – showing the facility is meeting a need and bringing value to disabled and non-disabled users across the region.
With equal access and shared space by people of all abilities have come new perspectives. As the city’s project coordinator put it, “we were able to change many attitudes once the EXPLORE playground opened. I feel we opened minds and hearts with all the positive play, socialization and recreation available.”
Birmingham On-Demand Microtransit
Interview with Jeremy McNair Birmingham On-Demand Rider
Access to reliable transportation is a basic issue of fairness and self-sufficiency. A 2016 study showed that in the Birmingham metro, 70% of low-income households had no vehicle. Birmingham ranked 89th out of the top 100 metros in access to public transit. If people can’t get to a job, they can’t work and earn an income.
In 2019, the Community Foundation and Catalyst Fund donors partnered with Via Transportation and the City of Birmingham to launch a microtransit pilot service called Birmingham On-Demand. This service has been a game changer in making transportation more accessible, with an average wait time of 10.6 minutes and a cost per ride of $1.50. The service has also expanded to cover a 33 square mile area, resulting in a record 75,000 rides in 2022.
Over half of riders use Birmingham On-Demand to commute to work, and 7 in 10 riders have an annual income under $50,000. This demonstrates that the service is reaching lower-income residents with the greatest need, while also appealing to a broader range of users. Birmingham On-Demand exemplifies the idea that equity can enhance quality of life for all residents by providing fair access to opportunity.
Small Business Impact Initiative
For the Birmingham region to thrive and experience strong economic growth, it is critical that all residents have access to economic opportunity. This means providing robust support for business owners at all levels, including access to capital and other assistance. However, research shows that the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan statistical area (MSA) has the lowest percentage of Black-owned businesses with employees among MSAs with over 1 million residents, indicating that access to capital and assistance for emerging entrepreneurs and smaller businesses is a significant challenge.
To address this gap, the Catalyst-funded Small Business Impact Initiative was launched, providing over $1 million in flexible capital and targeted technical assistance through mission-focused community development financial institutions (CDFIs).
The initiative’s results have been impressive, with 75 small businesses receiving loans in the first year, and 63 of them expanding their products and services, 59 adding employees, and 60 reporting increased profits. The lenders have seen an overall increase in dollars loaned to groups that traditionally have less ready access to capital, including Black, Latino, and women business owners.
It is worth noting that these loan funds are available to all small business owners, and the data suggests that they are driving growth across lines of race, gender, and geography, benefiting a wide range of business owners. The Small Business Impact Initiative demonstrates that providing people with the resources they need can help them realize their potential and contribute to the region’s economic growth.