Since grant writer Barbara Mello was hired by the town last spring, she has helped Braintree officials fund a variety of projects, from a $1,500 exercise bike at the high school to the $2,500 grant and award naming Braintree one of the 100 Best Communities for Youth.
The largest upcoming grant, really a competition open to all cities and towns nationwide with more than 30,000 residents, could mean up to $5 million for Braintree.
Bloomberg Philanthropies has so far accepted 305 applications from communities in 45 states, all designed to address problems with bold and innovative ideas. Braintree's idea would target "the blight of distressed/neglected properties in a collaborative enterprise between government, business, senior and young people," according to the town's submission.
"I think it's really going to pay off," Mello said in a recent interview, speaking about the Mayor's Challenge, but also about the possibilities of her position, filled for the first time since the town switched forms of government and the economic downturn hit.
Mello was appointed by Mayor Joseph Sullivan in March to work half-time as a grant writer and half-time assisting on contracts with Town Solicitor Carolyn Murray. She came from Duxbury, where Mello worked for 12 years as the executive assistant to the town manager, occassionally helping with grants but largely focusing on running Town Meeting.
That experience, along with bachelor's and master's degrees in economics and psychology, have positioned Mello well to work at the nexus between Braintree's various departments.
Mello's first task on arriving in Braintree was to interview people throughout town government, learning what to focus on and what was already being accomplished.
"There are already people who do an excellent job," Mello said, pointing specifically to the school and police departments as examples of where grants are often applied for and received.
Over the past several months, Mello has turned her attention mainly to technology grants in the school system, an area that Assistant Superintendent Dr. Maureen Murray encouraged Mello to pursue, and playground-related funding that can supplement capital work planned for Braintree's parks.
Braintree High's after-school photography club received $5,000 last month from Best Buy for equipment, and a nearly $10,000 grant from Rockland Trust for computers for the Dual Enrollment Program is pending.
Mello is also working on an application for $500,000 for a trash reduction program and another grant from the Christopher Reeve Foundation that would help put handicap-accessible equipment at playgrounds.
Grant funders want to help with initiatives already in place, projects that include regionalization, and they especially reward innovative ways to improve efficiency, Mello said.
"They want to fund going concerns," she said. "How can you do things faster, better and cheaper? Funds are tighter and tighter and we've got to do more with less."
Bloomberg's Mayor's Challenge is focused on ideas that will improve city life and tackle major challenges, but also those that can be shared among communities, according to its website.
The Braintree Environmental Service Team (B.E.S.T) would target several areas: young people's need for experience despite the tough economy, the appearance of blighted areas in town, building government/business partnerships and providing elder citizens the opportunity to share their time and talent.
An initial list of 300 properties that require clean-up have been identified, requiring an approximately two-year committment, through results would appear right away and projects could be added, according to the town's application.
"We enthusiastically approach this challenge," officials wrote. "We are not deterred by the realization that we are one of the smallest participating communities... The Town of Braintree proudly offers an innovative solution for a problem facing virtually every U.S. municipality, large and small."