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A New MI Philanthropy Partnership to Expand Access to Healthy Recreation Programs and Spaces

CMF, in collaboration with the Office of Foundation Liaison and through our Statewide Equity Fund, is working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a unique opportunity for CMF members to help equitably guide resources to expand access to healthy outdoor recreation programs for traditionally marginalized communities.​  

Woman playfully chasing after her young daughter in a park on a sunny day

CMF, in collaboration with the Office of Foundation Liaison and through our Statewide Equity Fund, is working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on a unique opportunity for CMF members to help equitably guide resources to expand access to healthy recreation programs for traditionally marginalized communities.​  

The DNR is administering the Michigan Spark Grants Program, which is funded through American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. The program will support projects that provide safe, accessible public recreation facilities and spaces to improve people’s health, introduce new recreation experiences, build on existing park infrastructure and make it easier for people to enjoy both indoor and outdoor recreation.

The new CMF/DNR partnership will make Michigan Spark Grants funding available this summer to communities identified as “opportunity communities” – those that traditionally have been under-resourced and underrepresented and who lack access to parks and recreation.

This innovative model aligns with federal funding requirements to support communities adversely affected by COVID-19, along with helping to improve and redevelop existing public recreation in communities that historically have experienced barriers to accessing these types of grants.

The ultimate goal of this program is to improve healthy spaces in communities currently experiencing significant levels of health, social and economic disparities and with little or no previous parks and recreation investment through increased public and local/regional private sector support and technical assistance. 

To create this new grantmaking model, the DNR sought advice and perspective from an advisory group composed of philanthropy, regional government planning, parks and recreation, and other grant making entities with relevant expertise.

What emerged was the framework for a grant program with a more equity-focused application and evaluation process, a new approach that gives funding priority to opportunity communities – areas that lack public recreation spaces and have a high proportion of households that are struggling financially and a high number of residents with physical and mental health disparities. 

Michigan Spark Grants have proved much different than other grant programs offered by the DNR.

“We were very encouraged by the willingness of the DNR to do something different to further broaden access to recreational opportunities,” said J.J. Tighe, director of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation’s Parks & Trails Initiative, and a member of the Michigan Spark Grants advisory group. “We had to find creative solutions that didn’t just create a new grant program, but could instead leverage the locally based resources of community foundations to provide grantees with additional support, remove barriers and create the conditions for each community to have long-term success.”

Through CMF’s partnership with the DNR, community foundations serving opportunity communities are being invited to lead in their capacity as informed and trusted local conveners, resource providers and technical assistance brokers for local applicants with the goal of equitably distributing the Spark Grants.

These community foundations will work with local units of government, residents and other stakeholders in DNR-identified opportunity communities to ready application submissions for potential funding through the $25 million in DNR Spark funding to be administered by CMF.   

“Through this innovative partnership with the DNR, Michigan philanthropy will help to ensure community voice is centered in this work to advance equitable and transformative change for opportunity communities across the state. We look forward to supporting our foundation members as we collectively work to expand access to recreation spaces and programs for communities that have been historically under-represented and under-resourced,” Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF said.  

CMF member community foundations in these regions may apply for funding and technical assistance to support local planning and implementation efforts. Specifically, community foundations can request funding to: 

  • Convene local public sector stakeholders, community-based organizations and community members to identify community needs. 
  • Support the development of equity-based and locally/regionally-informed parks and recreation development plans. 
  • Broker technical assistance to strengthen applicants seeking Spark Grants support. 
  • Leverage public and private sector resources to develop long-term sustainability plans for Spark Grants funded parks and recreation programs and projects. 

Participating CMF member community foundations will be notified of an “intent to apply” opportunity in early summer 2023. All awarded grant funds must be committed to third-party contracts by December 31, 2024, and all grant-funded projects must be completed by September 30, 2026. 

Questions? Please contact Regina Bell, director, Government Relations and Public Policy at CMF.

Want more?

Learn more about DNR Spark Grants Program Partnership.

CMF created comprehensive FAQs on the program to support Michigan communities and philanthropy in navigating this program.